Cut-and-paste patent report withdrawn

By Arnab Pratim Dutta
Published: Saturday 31 March 2007

the report of the Technical Expert Group headed by R A Mashelkar, set up to report on aspects of the patent law in the context of the international regime of intellectual property rights, has been withdrawn.

The report was to have been used in a case filed by multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis in the Madras High Court (see 'Patent puzzle', Down To Earth, February 28, 2007) challenging Indian laws, which do not allow grant of patents to drugs that are not completely new chemical entities.

On February 19, Mashelkar wrote to the Union government withdrawing the report. But the government is yet to take a decision on the report. In a written reply to the Lok Sabha on February 27, Ashwini Kumar, the minister of state for industries, said the government was still undecided on the issue.

Mashelkar's withdrawal of the report follows allegations of plagiarism and partisanship towards foreign multinationals. Mashelkar has, however, blamed the "technical inaccuracies in the report" on a "drafting sub-group", and asked for three months to look into the issue. When asked about the drafting sub-group, N R Madhava Menon, one of the committee members, said he had no knowledge of such a sub-group. "In my knowledge there was a team of compilers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. You should talk to the chairperson about this," Menon said. Sources suggest Mashelkar is now rewriting the report.

Following the withdrawal, civil society groups now want the government to scrap the report. Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective feels a new group should be formed. Some activists also feel the government must refer patent-related legal issues to the parliamentary standing committee on commerce.

A hearing on Novartis's petition ended inconclusively on March 5, despite having been billed as the final hearing. Further hearings have been scheduled for March.

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