Departing from the days of vigorously emulating the Western model of industry-centric IP protection under its erstwhile director R.A. Mashelkar, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) seems to be all set to follow the path of a people-centric developmental model under the leadership of the current director-general Samir Brahmachari. With globalization often leading to a situation wherein the IP is held in one country, the product is designed in another, and manufactured and sold in some other countries, Brahmachari believes that it has become difficult to gauge the true value of IP that also includes public welfare.
The current model that is going to be followed will involve a three-tiered approach:
For inventions involving high-value technology that requires niche expertise, it’ll continue licensing out at high prices, quite similar to its actions regarding the Institute of Microbial Technology’s clot dissolving drug that has been recently licensed to Nostrum Pharmaceuticals for $150 million.
For inventions where national interest is involved, it’ll co-invest with the industry to commercialize it, as it has been doing recently with Tata Chemicals in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, for producing marine-derived potash, which could result in import substitution worth Rs. 8,000 crore for the fertilizer ministry.
Finally in case of technologies that may have low inventive value, but high social impact, CSIR will license the same for a notional fee — just like it has done with the solar-powered pedal-operated cycle rickshaw that has been licensed to the Kinetic Group for mass-production for postmen and dairy vendors.
This move by CSIR, which can be a precursor to universities focusing on improving welfare through inventions instead of on generating revenues, has been welcomed by Bhaven Sampat, an acknowledged expert in university research and patenting. According to Sampat, placing research results in public domain instead of following the patenting and licensing route can lead to the best possible ‘technology transfer’ in certain cases.
Mashelkar, who is the current president of Global Research Alliance believes the ideal approach to patenting ought to be somewhere midway between the two extreme options advocated by the NGOs on the one hand and body corporate on the other, something that CSIR’s present model is based on. Indeed, CSIR has, with this move, appears to have undergone a complete transformation back from the days when it used to indulge in aggressive patenting and industry-licensing following the U.S. Bayh-Dole Act’s coming into existence. Examples of such earlier aggressiveness can be seen in the establishment of CSIR-Tech, a loosely formed entity with the mandate to commercialise CSIR IP following the U.S. approach, a move that had failed to achieve much success.
What CSIR is at present seeking to come up with is CSIR Ventures, a non-profit entity that will sell/license IP on CSIR’s behalf and raise a corpus to incubate companies. According to Brahmachari, a few financial institutions, including SBI Market Cap, have already shown interest in investing. CSIR Ventures is being modelled on Cambridge University’s tech licensing arm, Cambridge Enterprise, which manages 800 active IP, licensing and equity contracts while working with 1,000 academics.
Following Brahmachari’s arrival at its helm of affairs from 2007 onwards, CSIR admittedly become more selective in patent filing. According to Pushpito Ghosh, director of Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) in Bhavnagar, as many as 50 U.S. patents have been obtained by his laboratory in the last 8 years, which are only going to be commercialized as per the deliberations that would happen in the coming 12th Plan. Laboratories may also set up demonstration units to fulfill the industry demand for “usable” technology. CSMCRI has already established a 0.75 tonne/day plant within its campus to manufacture potash using its own technology which is being licensed to Tata Chemicals. The latter is setting up another 3 tonne/day plant (to be scaled up later) where the department of science and technology will bear 70% of the equipment cost. Another 2,000 square metre reverse osmosis membrane manufacturing unit (for desalination of sea water) is also being set up for large-scale demonstrations.
While institutions are still deciding which way to lean on, the precise nature of university IP as a source of lucrative revenue perhaps needs to be reexamined. This is because the focus on licensing revenues may not be the best way to promote social returns and secondly, because licensing IP is unlikely to generate much income. Brahmachari also agrees to this viewpoint whole-heartedly. He is in fact currently seeking Cabinet approval for transferring some formulations on infectious diseases from government’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library into the Open Source Drug Discovery programme that he had started three years ago. This, according to him can create new IP, with small scale companies getting chances in the form of know-how to build products, even with giants like Piramal and Ranbaxy getting acquired by other multinationals.