CSIR lays down law on patent­ing

Fo­cus will be on li­cens­ing fees from patents and end­ing `bio­data patents' that only em­bel­lish a sci­en­tist's CV

Down to Earth - - COLUMN -

THERE ARE patents and then there are patents, and there is a vast gulf be­tween the two. There are patents that are use­ful and there are patents that are best de­scribed as or­na­men­tal. The first brings in rev­enue through li­cens­ing fees, while the other is some­thing that merely looks good on a sci­en­tist’s cur­ricu­lum vi­tae. That is what the Coun­cil of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (csir) re­cently told its 18,000odd sci­en­tists. Be­have re­spon­si­bly on patents and cut out the fluff, said Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Girish Sahni in a cut and dried let­ter he sent out to the 38 lab­o­ra­to­ries that come un­der the csir um­brella. The fluff is what are termed kbio­data patentsy, good to em­bel­lish a sci­en­tist’s pro­file and of no use oth­er­wise.

It is pos­si­bly the first time that such a mes­sage has gone out to pub­lic sec­tor sci­en­tists. In the patent fever that has been sweep­ing the coun­try in the past decade, the fo­cus has been to get sci­en­tists to kun­der­standy the im­por­tance of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights (iprs), and to en­cour­age them to patent at the slight­est ex­cuse. While csir has had a much longer his­tory of pro­mot­ing iprs, it was prac­ti­cally a vir­gin ex­er­cise at the In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (icar) which some years ago, had set up a spe­cial di­vi­sion un­der an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor-gen­eral to fos­ter the drive for patents. This had some un­ex­pected re­sults: sci­en­tists were even per­mit­ted to patent recipes (see ‘icar chases patents for pickle’, Down To Earth, 16-30 Septem­ber, 2014).

csir boasts the largest port­fo­lio of patents among pub­lic-funded re­search in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try—as it should since its labs work on a vast gamut of re­search, from chem­i­cals to nan­otech­nol­ogy and from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to space physics. Its record on li­cens­ing is also said to be cred­itable. A study con­ducted in 2012 by SpicyIP, a web­site ded­i­cated to ipr mat­ters, gave an as­ton­ish­ing per­cent­age of li­cens­ing of its patents at 21.3 per cent. This was cal­cu­lated on the ba­sis of the 454 li­cens­ing deals— the web­site re­duced it to 400 to cut out du­pli­ca­tion of deals—which csir had claimed from its ac­tive patent list of 1,872. How­ever, just a month af­ter the SpicyIP study, a press re­lease is­sued by the min­is­ter of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy said that csir had li­censed just nine per­cent of its patents.

Ob­vi­ously, not all is well with csir’s man­age­ment of ipr, as Sahni’s mis­sive re­veals. Patents are be­ing “filed for the sake of fil­ing with­out any techno-com­mer­cial and le­gal eval­u­a­tion” and the ma­jor­ity are just “bio­data patents”. What has also riled him is the ad hoc and il­log­i­cal choice of coun­tries for stak­ing the patent claims. A scru­tiny of the list of patents held by csir in 2013— I was un­able to lo­cate any­thing more up-to-date—does show a cu­ri­ous pen­chant for the odd­est of coun­tries where csir sci­en­tists have filed claims. Here is a small sam­ple: Croa­tia, Azer­bai­jan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Uganda and Egypt.

“In­di­vid­ual sci­en­tists are us­ing them (patents) for get­ting pro­mo­tions and labs are play­ing a num­bers game. Once the patent is granted, nei­ther the sci­en­tist nor the lab both­ers about it. There is no se­ri­ous at­tempt to find li­censees nor is there a re­view sys­tem to pe­ri­od­i­cally look at the patent port­fo­lio,” reads Sahni’s let­ter. The Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral was head­ing csir’s In­sti­tute of Mi­cro­bial Tech­nol­ogy be­fore he was pro­moted and is, per­haps, ac­cus­tomed to see­ing bet­ter re­turns on patents. The let­ter is scathing about the lack of due dili­gence lead­ing to waste of fees that run into crores of ru­pees.

To show that it means busi­ness, csir is end­ing the free run. Hereafter, labs will fork out just 25-50 per cent of the cost of fil­ing and main­tain­ing patents. How­ever, if the labs are able to li­cense their iprs, csir will pro­vide a match­ing grant. In short, no re­turns‹no fund­ing.„

RI­TIKA BOHRA / CSE

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