This week seems to be the ‘patent fiasco’ week for India.
First up was a media report alleging that a top GM food crop scientist made false claims about his patents just to get a national award. The scientist in question — Kailash Bansal – claimed to have filed three patents for new gene discoveries in crops. On the basis of the claims, he was selected for a national award for outstanding research in transgenic crops for the year 2007-2008. However, it turns out that he had not applied for any patent even till July 2009, when he got the award.
The report goes on to provide proof of this goof up by citing data obtained from a ‘Right to Information’ (RTI) query as well as through sources from the patent application committee of the scientist’s institute, which had no clue of the applications till the award citation mention them. When the committee quizzed Bansal on this, he provided a patent application number filed in August 2009.
The scientist, subsequently designated director of India’s plant gene bank despite these false claims, continues to hold the award.
The question that the case raises is whether such misconduct by senior scientists will continue to be pushed under the carpet or will the Indian Council of Agricultural Research – the coveted research body that employs the scientist in question – respond to the allegations and hold him accountable.
In another significant development, India revoked a patent on a herbal medicine to treat diabetes. The government withdrew a patent given to drug maker Avesthagen on its diabetes drug made out of extracts from locally available plant parts. The reason: the extracts are known to be integral parts of the Ayurvedic, Unani and Siddha systems of medicine.
The move is being seen as the first step towards scrapping of many similar patents on medicines made out of commonly used plants and fruits such as amla, methi, karela and ashwagandha on grounds that they are part of traditional knowledge, something that India has begun to protect fiercely.
Coincidentally, Wired magazine started a series this week, analysing what is wrong with the patent systems and trying to find solutions to fix them. It would be great to follow the discussions over the coming weeks to see what lessons India can take home.