New Delhi: More than 15 eminent scientists appeared before a special government panel on Sunday to suggest revisions to a flagship innovation Bill currently under consideration by a parliamentary standing committee.
The scientists presented complaints regarding the proposed Protection and Utilization of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, 2008. If passed, the law would apply to all scientific innovations discovered by scientists who receive government grants. The law would be the first of its kind in India.
“Several changes will have to be made,” Dinesh Abrol, a policy researcher at the National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies, told HT after the meeting. “The government seemed open to the reforms we’ve suggested.”
The meeting comes after several leading scientists publicly slammed the Bill for putting too many restrictions on innovation. Scientists said the current form of the Bill would increase the amount of paperwork for researchers and levy punitive fines against scientists who didn’t comply with its provisions.
Non-governmental organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières, had also expressed concerns.
In response, the department of biotechnology (DBT), which is steering the Bill, on 29 January sent scientists a list of proposed amendments, currently with HT, which include giving researchers more control over whether or not to patent a discovery, and dropping the heavy fines.
“Some of the troubling aspects have been removed, but there are still issues that must be addressed,” S.A. Shivashankar, the head of the intellectual property unit and a materials science professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc), told HT. Shivashankar as well as IISc director P. Balaram have publicly criticized the Bill. Shivashankar attended the Sunday meeting.
Abrol said the Bill must be further modified to protect public interest, allowing the government to receive royalties on inventions discovered by government-funded scientists, and to discourage the use of exclusive licences, which allow a single company the rights to manufacture and market an invention.
The parliamentary standing committee will hold the third of three hearings about the Bill on Monday, when they will consider any suggested changes. A DBT official told HT that “the language is being modified” and “any changes will have to be justified”.
Even after the changes, some scientists remain unconvinced. Satyajit Rath of the National Institute of Immunology told HT: “The amendments address my original concerns, but I still haven’t seen any arguments that say that we need this legislation.”
The Bill is based on the Bayh-Dole Act, a landmark 1980 reform that allowed American scientists to own the rights to discoveries made while using government funding. The Act is credited by some for helping the US become a scientific superpower.
The Indian version of the Bill will allow scientists the right to profit from discoveries made using public funding. The goal is to encourage greater innovation, though critics have questioned whether the Bill will have that effect on India, where the constraints on research are very different from those in the US.