India's patent debate4th April 2008
Legislation modelled on existing laws in the United States allowing government-funded researchers to retain patents from their work are to be debated in India.
The government is planning to introduce a draft bill aimed at boosting commercialisation of scientific knowledge during the next two months, generating debate around the country.
The country's parliament will discuss the bill, which is the brainchild of the science and technology ministry, and which has been modelled on the US' 1980 Bayh-Dole Act.
The ground-breaking Act gave universities and research institutes intellectual property rights over research they carried out using public money.
Publicly funded research in India has often produced innovations that hold potential for public good, but these, according to the Bill, have "languished in laboratories" instead of being released commercially.
In India, the funding body still retains intellectual property rights over work it finances, a situation which has put a damper on the commercialisation of the country's innovations.
There is also no appropriate legal framework to address this issue, and a current lack of incentives for academic institutions to commercialise their work.
The new legislation seeks to place the power to maximise commercial gains from research in the hands of the researchers themselves.
Government officials hope the bill will promote innovation in Indian universities and research institutes, which could then generate further funding from patents.
Most Indian universities have little or no awareness of the need to protect and commercialise their intellectual assets, according to Somenath Ghosh, managing director of India's National Research Development Corporation, which helps organisations and individuals commercialise their inventions.
Futhermore, interactions between researchers and industry have been severely limited by the lack of mechanism or incentive to protect knowledge.
Critics say the bill, which has been recommended by India's government advisory body, the National Knowledge Commission, has been shrouded in secrecy, and that it is being rushed through too fast.
Former commission vice-chairman Pushpa Bhargava has said no major open discussion took place about the bill at the commission; indeed, that every attempt was made to circumvent an open debate on the matter.
Others say India's situation cannot be compared to that of the United States, where the university research environments are very different.
According to Dinesh Abrol, a scientist at the National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies in Delhi, state agencies play a major role in supporting research involving several institutes and universities in the United States, all of which get large research grants.
By contrast, most Indian state universities are poorly funded, and are rarely included in major national research projects, he added.
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