Mumbai: On the heels of serious criticism against red tape and lack of transparency in India’s patent offices, a group of industry representatives, patent experts, lawyers and patient groups, have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging his intervention in creating a system that will make information related to patents, their filings and grants public.

The letter, signed by about 150 people, has requested the Prime Minister to increase transparency and accountability at the Indian patent offices by creating an online database containing complete information on patent applications and grants, copies of patent office decisions, and patent examination details.

Right to Information: The letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asks for an online database with information on patent applications and grants, copies of decisions, and patent examination details.

It has mentioned that such a database will conform with the mandate under the Right to Information Act to make such information available to the public.

The letter, which was sent last week, has also been sent to the National Knowledge Commission chairman Sam Pitroda, Union commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath, Union science and technology minister Kapil Sibal, and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Aluwalia.

“Currently there is no way one can access details on how the patent grant/rejection decisions are made at the patent offices in India," said Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre’s Shamnad Basheer, who led the campaign, adding the examination reports, file notings and comments made by patent officials should also be made public. “Such access is critical, as it promotes transparency and reduces the scope for corruption," he said.

The Chennai patent office, for instance, has been in the news in recent weeks for an alleged violation of law to grant a patent to Swiss drug multinational F Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd for its anti-infection drug Valcyte, without hearing an opposition filed by a patient group.

The country's drug controller is conducting an in-quiry into how the patent was granted.

In 2004, S.N. Maity, then controller general of patents in India, who granted the so-called exclusive marketing right to Swiss drug maker Novartis AG to sell its controversial drug Glivec in India, was removed from his job by the cabinet committee on appointments over allegations on irregularities in patent grant decisions.

The India patent system has made little progress in establishing a transparent database in the last decade.

“Though this work was initiated in 1996, there has not been any serious progress in this direction. Since such a resource is of tremendous value to all patent stakeholders inventors, industry, policymakers, civil society, academicians and more importantly the public, the government should even consider outsourcing this task to the private sector," the group stated in its letter.