A grammatical error “a possibility of 2% human error is possible” secured a genetics research laboratory a landmark judgment in a recent case of data theft.
In a first before an adjudicating authority, the plaintiff succeeded in proving that the stolen research data was an exact copy of the original, along with all its grammatical and two spelling mistakes. After over a year of sustained efforts by the complainant laboratory, the Principal Secretary of Information Technology finally ruled in their favour, observing that let alone the colours, fonts and abbreviations, even the spelling and grammatical errors in both the reports were exactly similar.
The complainant, PreventiNe Life Care Pvt Ltd, is based in Sanpada, Navi Mumbai, and has since 2007 been working on predicting the possible disorders in newly born infants based on their DNA. PreventiNe has to date worked on around 70,000 samples from 12 to 13 countries across the world, preparing a report of its findings, which cover 111 different disorders. It was established in 2007 by Abhimanyu Kumar and Susheel Singh.
Kumar and Singh, both post-graduate diploma holders in management, studied together at IIM Calcutta and graduated in 2005. Kumar worked in ABN Amro, General Electric and Morgan Stanley, and Singh worked with TCS and Citibank, before they ultimately came together and founded PreventiNe in 2007.
In April 2012, Dr Rishi Dixit, who was involved with the business side of the laboratory since 2010, quit saying he wanted to start his own business. In September the same year, Vrushali Joshi, who worked in the research section of the lab, also quit, citing health reasons.
“In October 2012, I was told that a new laboratory, Navigene, was conducting exactly the same research as us, which was very curious as I would have at least heard of it in all these years. I obtained their articles through the Registrar of Companies and found out that Dixit and Joshi were the promoters, and that it was set up in April 2012, when they were still working for me. Their research reports were exactly similar to ours. I contacted them and asked them to stop doing this, but they did not pay any heed. I finally approached the APMC police in January 2013, but they did not take my complaint giving me various and often ridiculous reasons,” alleged Kumar.
In June 2013, Kumar finally approached Principal Secretary (IT) Rajesh Aggarwal, who is the adjudicating officer for such cases in the state, and elected to argue his case himself. In an eight-minute argument before Aggarwal, Kumar pointed out the similarities in the research reports of his laboratory and those of Navigene. In both their reports, PreventiNe and Navigene had wrongly spelled ‘Oxolate’ as ‘Oxlat’e and ‘Homogentisate’ as ‘Homogenstate’. Further, both the reports had a grammatically wrong sentence; “A possibility of 2% human error is possible”.
In January this year, Aggarwal finally ruled in Kumar’s favour.
“At most of the places, the colours, fonts, sequence of marker tests, abbreviations used, language of notes, etc. is a verbatim copy. The spelling and grammatical mistakes are also copies. Further, it is not as if the reports are being typed on Microsoft Office. They are being generated by reporting module of the software,” Aggarwal observed in the order.
Aggarwal has directed Navigene to pay damages of Rs 30 lakh to PreventiNe within a month of the order, failing which a compound interest of 12 per cent would be chargeable. With no amount paid, the adjudicating officer has now given a second notice of 10 days for the damages to be paid.
When contacted, Dixit said allegations against him were baseless and that Navigene would be appealing against the judgment. “What has been shown as similar spelling mistakes are actually abbreviations. The grammatical mistakes have occurred as my associate, Vrushali Joshi, has studied in Marathi medium and tends to make some mistakes. We will soon be approaching the Cyber Appellate Tribunal,” he said.