R A Mashelkar, former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has asked the government to “withdraw” a report written by a panel he headed after a crucial paragraph on patent law was found to have been copied ad verbatim from other sources, without any attribution.
Mashelkar, considered the force behind the the country’s progress on intellectual property and patent issues, submitted this 56-page report on December 29 last year, his last day in office after a 30-year-long illustrious tenure.
“I am broken-hearted at being let down so badly,” an emotional Mashelkar told The Indian Express. “This is the first time such a thing has happened.” He said that a new report will be submitted in three months that will follow the “best ethical practices.”
“Being a scientist, I am so fussy about attributions but in the rush of the last working day, a slip did happen and I deeply regret it,” he said. He said he offered his “unconditional apologies for the inconvenience that has been caused to the Government” and that he took “full responsibility for this unfortunate development.”
At the centre of the controversy is paragraph 5.10 in Report of the Technical Expert Group on Patent Law issues, that was meant to examine whether India’s patent laws are compatible with the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).
The paragraph has been reproduced from a submission made to the committee by lawyer Shamnad Basheer, currently a Frank H. Marks Visiting Associate Professor in intellectual property law at the George Washington University Law School.
Basheer’s submission has been passed off as the committee’s conclusion: “It is important to distinguish ‘ever-greening’ from what is commonly referred to as ‘incremental innovation’. While ‘ever-greening’ refers to an extension of a patent monopoly, achieved by executing trivial and insignificant changes to an already existing patented product, ‘incremental innovations’ are sequential developments that build on the original patented product and may be of tremendous value in a country like India. Therefore, such incremental developments ought to be encouraged by the Indian patent regime.”
This far-reaching interpretation has an important bearing on how patent laws are interpreted in India, especially regarding the time-frame in which cheaper generic drugs can be made available of the hugely expensive patented molecules. As of now, drug companies routinely use “incremental innovations” to extend their patent period indefinitely.
On February 19, Mashelkar wrote to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the parent body under which the group was constituted to examine whether India’s patent laws are compatible with the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). According to the letter, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, Mashelkar admitted that “certain technical inaccuracies in the report that have inadvertently crept while the initial drafts were attempted by a drafting sub-group were unfortunately not detected in time and therefore not corrected.”
Basheer, when contacted, said that the committee’s observations were indeed “borrowed from my report” but he added that to call it “plagiarism is incorrect.”