Will the real NGO please stand up?

The Delhi High Court in its recent March 19thruling on the Roche-Cipla issue had lamented about the fact that it did not have access to any accurate information as to how many patients were affected by lung cancer and how many of them actually had access to Roche’s drug. A lack of quality empirical evidence has been a lamentable feature in all policy debates regarding patents in India.

Three days after this judgment of the Delhi High Court a leading business daily carried a front page report quoting a ‘city based policy research group’ on how foreign MNCs have filed 413 patent applications for anti-cancer drugs. (We had blogged about it here) This ‘city based policy research group’ had also come to the conclusion that most of these drugs were not patentable since, according to them, most of the patents were for frivolous changes and this group also seemed to deliver a veiled warning to the patent office examiners when it claimed that “Our analysis shows that most of these applications do not qualify for patents in India. Therefore, the patent examiners need to be very careful while scrutinising them”.

SpicyIP however was shocked at the fact that this ‘city based policy research group’ did not want to be named in the report. One would think that a head-lining act in one of the most reputable business newspapers in the country would be excellent coverage for this ‘city based policy research group’ and they should have been more than happy to let the newspaper publish their name. Unfortunately they seek to hide behind a veil of secrecy. It is unacceptable that this ‘city based policy research group’ seeks to influence such a major policy debate and bring about pressure upon the patent office through such high profile publicity without fulfilling a basic requirement of any public debate – transparency. We have a right to know who is saying what. Publicly announced reports in India are not akin to covert intelligence reports where the source is afraid of revealing themselves to the public. Public debates in India are supposed to be based on transparency and a fully informed public. That includes knowing the credentials of this ‘city based policy research group’. At this stage we pick no bones with the substance of their report. It may be true, it may be false but we need to know what exactly this group has at stake in this debate. Are they involved in any of the high-stakes pharma patent litigation occurring in India at this moment? Do they seek to influence the ‘compulsory licensing’ cases which the Patent Office is currently hearing? What exactly is the methodology of this survey? What are the qualifications of the authors of the report?

The general quality of public debate in the world’s largest democracy has always been lamentable since we are burdened with a bureaucracy which is still obsessed with secrecy. Civil society organizations have been the only saving grace for democracy and debate in this country. For example highly reputable civil society organizations like Lawyer’s Collective, regardless of their agenda, have always been at the fore of filling in the information gap in crucial patent law debates. Unfortunately for us, we are now witness to the day where a civil society organization has sought to adopt the same evils of secrecy and intrigue, evils which the rest of their ilk have sought to combat for a lifetime.

Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

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