June 08, 2007

Come Lets Patent

That the USA has denied reports of trying to patent yoga postures comes as a relief to many Indians around the world. Many ardent yogis who wonder how the US got the right to decide whether it would patent or not a divine exercise which has it roots deeply planted in India, fail to realise that India had to fight a legal battle in the WTO to safeguard her interest when USA patented turmeric and Basmati rice both of which are associated with India since time immemorial.

It is a known fact that America either beats or buys talent and from history we know that they have been more successful in buying out talent. Lakhs of Indian engineers, doctors and other technocrats who are serving in US holding their precious dollars close to their chest stand a testimony to this. USA dominates every nation using its borrowed talent and it becomes important to patent every piece of research to save itself from defection. The issue of evergreening the patents (continue to provide royalty forever) given to life saving drugs is only the tip of the ice berg. USA with its Super 501 and special 501 clauses threatens LDCs(least developed countries) to approve evergreening of such drugs so that these drug companies can continue to extract high profits from these poor nations. India was recently forced to amend her Intellectual property rights Act to fall in line. India had to budge as USA threatened to stop all import of Indian generic drugs which have a good market in the US.

Aren't patents unfair beyond a point? How can obsolete technology be patented beyond 20 years? How can obvious 'inventions' be patented? For instance, the mother of redundant patents, Microsoft has patented the radio button which lets you select one choice among the given alternatives. With the growing competition between the nations, it wouldn't be a surprise if the US ends up patenting our Kamasutra. You'd then be required to fix a camera in your bedroom and perform only those acts (postures) for which you have paid money. If you're found to venture into other 'unpaid' acts during your moments of intimacy, you'd be fined along with the relevant video showing your violation.

India can try her luck too by patenting Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism as they originated from our country. We could then charge people a nominal fee for practicing it. We could also get royalty from Srilanka, South East Asia as they have been 'using' our invention without paying. Those who continue to hold their dollars close to their chest could feel that this is a wonderful idea.


Anonymous said...

I'll be the first to admit that software patents in general (I dont anything know about your specific example) are a broken system today in need of reform.

The drug companies might be a different story. In their defence, a lot of the research they do costs enormous amounts of money. If you take a drug sold in India and take the same drug sold in the US, you'll see that the US price is a lot higher - since that's how they can subsidize costs for countries in India or Africa.

If you remove all patent protection and the research they're doing gets copied without them getting any money out of it (and before you say 'unfair prices', I would suggest looking at things like margins and where they're putting that money into - usually more research) - they might just stop doing research on drugs for 3rd world countries and focus on what some people call 'rich people's diseases'.

Remember that a lot of these 3rd world countries only have the capability to reverse-engineer these drugs but not to do the research necessary to create them themselves. It would be a disaster if people stopped looking at better drugs for polio or cholera or Bill Gates' pet topic - malaria just because they're not able to charge money for it.

I don't know what the right answer is - but making the drug companies out to be some sort of villain is definitely not the right way to go about it.

- Sriram

vikraman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vikraman said...

Agreed. No one is against patenting provided for genuine research. However, the whole point of contention in this post was against evergreening of patents. Consider the case of Novartis, which tried to "evergreen" its cancer drug Gleevec/Glivec. It argues that it had 'discovered' beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, sold under the brand name Gleevec/Glivec which it claimed has much more curative powers than the parent drug. However,as the madras high court ruled, it was shown that the 'innovation' was only a marginal improvement over its parent drug. The court also stated that this was not a valid ground for providing a patent. This shows clearly that Novartis wanted to be the monopoly in producing its cancer drug for another 20 years by showing some unworthy piece of research as 'path breaking discovery'.

Also, I'm not ready to accept that these 'philanthropic' institutions are working for the development of poor nations and are subsidising their products by charging more in the USA. If you look closely, the health care in USA is financed by insurance companies. When you don't pay out of your pocket, you don't worry about the cost either - this explains why drugs are costly in the USA. Did you know that the cost of paracetamol(Crocin in India) is $70 in USA while the same is Rs1 here? Blame it on your public policy.

Anonymous said...

If your argument is against the amount of time on patents, I personally agree - you have no argument there from me. The 'obviousness' part is trickier - I've seen how that can be argued multiple ways.

Regarding the US - people pay a ton of money for that insurance! It is not cheap. Also, the insurance company doesn't automatically 'pay'. That's why there's so much noise around things like Michael Moore's documentary - Sicko (which also shows among other things that a lot of people in the US dont have any health insurance which is scary if you look at the price of healthcare here).

Here's a challenge for you (as someone who might play a central role in the Indian administration someday).

Look at this interview of Bill Gates http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1570088833224980251. He makes a very interesting comment about medicines for diseases present only in 3rd world countries - there's little or no research being done in them! Why? There is no money in it. Of course, what he's trying to do is to put the 'money' part in so that some of this research happens but do think about that problem a bit.

If you want the best minds to focus on this problem, you need to find a way for it to be financially profitable for them. That's not a bad thing - its a very good thing - its how capitalism works. Everytime you remove a part of the financial incentive, the more you risk someone just backing off research in that area.

The challenge lies in finding a business model where there's financial incentive for the best minds to do research for diseases and medical issues in 3rd world countries.

The challenge for you is to do just that - find a model to encourage companies to do research in such disases and find the financial incentive for them to sell other drugs in India and LDCs.

I really think you should take a long hard look at your comments in the original post about why the patent system in the US exists or Indian engineers there - I dont think thats why the USPTO exists at all. The real reason it exists is to protect inventors. If you didnt have patents, people would not talk about how their products work and the research would be lost to all humanity. Patents say "Hey - tell us how your idea works and if it meets this criteria, you get some kind of exclusivity for some time".

Dont fall into the trap of making this out to be some US vs Indian issue or 'greedy corporations' trying to make money. Dig deeper into what these issues are

Do mail me - we should continue this discussion over private email

- Sriram

vikraman said...

I assure you that you are not discussing with a communist holding a red flag with a hammer and sickle painted on it. I believe capitalism has the potential to solve some of mankind's problems, though it creates some, for instance the recent sub-prime crisis.

I agree that patents need to be provided for genunie research - but genuine research only. However capitalism, or doing it the US way, is not a panacea for all the ills of a developing country. If we fall a pray to great sounding words like 'free market' and 'open competition' and open our flood gates, we(india) could go the latin american way of killing the nascent industries in the bud by letting in the giant MNCs inside. It will severly undermine the nation's capacity to have independent policies.

Moreover, you cannot expect a person in Somalia with a percapita income of less than $2 a day to think along your lines. Also, the institutions created by a country are geared to solve the problems of that country alone. If NASA's mission is geared towards finding water on mars, India's space research programme tries to find water table under indian soil to solve the more sensible problem of irrigation to crops. If the anology is clear, it wouldn't be difficult to understand why its not possible for a developing country to provide bogus, frivulous patents.

P.S Can you tell me by what philosophy the US granted patents to our Basmati rice and turmeric powder? Would you accept if the big bully patented our yoga?

Gella said...

Great work.