In a damning indictment, a news analysis report in the Hindu by Chan Park and Achal Prabhala alleges that
… a committee of five renowned experts takes a year and a half to deliberate over a patent law issue that is crucial to millions of people in India, and finally produces a report whose key conclusions are borrowed, without acknowledgement, from a paper funded through a U.K.-based think-tank by Interpat, an association of major multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Though the Mashelkar report is available for download (doc), I do not have access to the paper — Limiting the Patentability of Pharmaceutical Inventions and Micro-organisms: A TRIPS Compatibility Review” — from which the the report supposedly borrows its conclusions. Hence, I am not able to comment on the plagiarism issue. However, from this blogpost by the author of the paper, it looks like the committee might have had access to the paper; and, to my knowledge the paper is not referred to in the report — a search for the name of the author of the paper Shamnad Basheer did not return me any results.
However serious the plagiarism and conflict of interest accusations may by themselves be, the more pressing concerns are about what the article calls “evergreening”:
Patents are limited monopolies granted by national governments and, on the insistence of the corporate lobby, regulated by multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organisation. In theory, the logic is deceptively straightforward: the discovery of new medicines costs money; companies need an incentive to make this investment; patents provide that protection. In practice, there is a big problem. Multinational pharmaceutical companies have turned the system on its head. As their pipeline of truly new and innovative drugs slows to a trickle, they have chosen to focus their energies on patenting minor tweaks to existing drugs in order to squeeze out an ever-extending monopoly whenever possible. In trade circles, this is called “evergreening” — a process that the Mashelkar Report asks us not to confuse with “incremental innovation” although, honestly, it is hard to tell them apart. This translates into an infinite monopoly — instead of merely a 20 year one — a lifetime of artificially high prices for essential medicines because only one manufacturer is allowed to supply the market.
Personally, as a matter of principle, I abhor IPR, patents, and copyright; however, if we are forced to follow the IPR/patents/copyright regime, it might be in our interests to use the wiggle room available to the maximum extent possible:
When India amended its patent law in 2005, it included some unique provisions to ensure that pharmaceutical companies could not “evergreen” with impunity. It stipulated that if a pharmaceutical company wanted a patent for an improvement on an already existing drug, it must show that the improvement actually made the drug more effective. However logical this may seem to us, it is clearly not in the interests of the multinational corporate lobby — although the fact remains that India should have set patent standards even higher, since TRIPS explicitly leaves this flexibility in sovereign hands.
Let us hope that the ensuing discussion will lead us to such flexible laws with enough wiggle room not to compromise our interests. In particular, let us hope that this article will elicit some response from the committee defending itself against the allegations and explain the logic behind its recommendations.