Mumbai: A panel of lawmakers has drastically revised a draft law on the intellectual property rights of state-funded institutions, relaxing patenting norms for their inventions and giving the government more control over them.
The new Bill will be submitted in Parliament on Monday, said Subbarami Reddy, a senior parliamentarian who heads the House standing committee reviewing the Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, 2008.
The original Bill made it compulsory for all scientific institutions and universities working on government funds to patent their every invention.
It also allowed them to licence it out for commercial use on an exclusive basis, in a bid to make such institutions self-sustainable. Revenue was to be shared with the scientists.
Proposed by the science and technology ministry, the Bill was allegedly passed in haste by the Union cabinet without much public discussion and introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Detractors said it was a direct copy of the US Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, and not useful for a developing country such as India. It was even termed the “Indian Bayh-Dole Act”.
The criticism prompted the government to appoint the Reddy committee, which consulted the wider scientific community, patent law experts and public interest activists while reviewing the draft.
Public interest groups were concerned that compulsory patenting and exclusive licensing would lead to commercial abuse of technologies and inventions generated through publicly funded research.
Procedural hurdles in patenting and some punitive clauses worried the scientific community.
The original draft had proposed that the government take back half the funds already granted and stop issuing fresh funds to institutions that didn’t meet its terms.
A total of 52 amendments have been made to the original draft.
The panel has removed the requirement that every invention be patented, as well as the penal provisions, said a person who attended the committee’s hearings, on condition of anonymity.
“The legislation in its original form could have forced publicly funded institutions to transfer technologies without discretion to private hands, killing the very objective of public finance for institutional research in India,” said a representative of a global non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the area of healthcare.
The new draft proposes to give the government the right to use any invention patented by a state-funded institution, and to issue non-exclusive licences for the technology to any third party in the public interest.
It also mandates that public-funded institutions disclose all their patents as well as licensing and commercialization details on their websites for public scrutiny.
The revised Bill says that public-funded patents cannot be assigned without the government’s permission, and exclusive licences can be granted only when the licensee manufactures the patented product substantially in India.
“The Bill still focuses on the patent protection of publicly funded technologies, and doesn’t really look at many other issues pertaining to technology transfer and licensing in the public interest perspective,” said the NGO official quoted above. The official didn’t want to be named.
But Shamnad Basheer, a patent law expert and a ministry of human resource development chair at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, hailed the Reddy committee’s openness to hearing suggestions from a range of stakeholders.
“This was a truly revolutionary process in law-making and I was pleasantly surprised at the level of openness and consultation,” said Basheer, who represented the intellectual property law fraternity at the standing committee hearings.
“Never before in the IP (intellectual property) law-making history has there been such a meaningful consultative process, where a parliamentary standing committee took pains to understand the nuances of a technical legislation from a wide array of stakeholders,” he said.