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  • Indian patent bill stirs debate among scientists


[NEW DELHI] The Indian government is to discuss a draft bill allowing government-sponsored researchers to patent and commercialise their work — but the legislation is generating heated debate amongst scientists.

The draft legislation is to be introduced for debate in the Indian parliament in the next two months.

It is spearheaded by the Ministry of Science and Technology and modelled on the United States' 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which gave US universities and research institutes intellectual property rights over public-funded research.

The bill states that public-funded research in India has often produced innovations that hold potential for public good, but these have "languished in laboratories" instead of being released commercially.

This is blamed on the retention of intellectual property rights by the funding body, a lack of incentives for academic institutes to commercialise research and the absence of appropriate legal framework to accomplish this.

The new legislation seeks to rectify this by placing the potential for commercial gains in the hands of the researchers.

Officials from India's Department of Biotechnology, which helped draft the bill, say it will promote innovation in Indian universities and research institutes by generating funds through patents.

The bill represents "much-needed change," according to Somenath Ghosh, managing director of India's National Research Development Corporation, which helps organisations and individuals commercialise their inventions.

Ghosh told SciDev.Net that most Indian universities have little awareness of the need to protect and commercialise knowledge. "There was no mechanism or incentive to protect knowledge and their research networks have limited interaction with industry."

But critics are concerned at the speed with which the bill has been processed and the secrecy surrounding it.

The bill was recommended by India's National Knowledge Commission, a government advisory body.

But Pushpa Bhargava, who resigned as vice-chairman of the commission last year, says there was no major open discussion at the commission and he was "taken aback" by the recommendation.

"Every attempt was made to circumvent an open discussion and debate over it," Bhargava told SciDev.Net.

Dinesh Abrol, a scientist at the National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies in Delhi, says that university research in India and the United States are vastly different.

In the United States, Abrol says, state agencies play a major role in supporting research involving several institutes and universities, which all receive large grants. But in India, most state universities are poorly funded and left out of major national research projects.

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