GWU – CII ‘Legal Education’ program set to make a comeback to India: Will it survive the criticism from the NGO + Cipla lobby?

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The U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC), has announced on its website that it will be hosting, in December, 2012 the ‘8th Annual India Legal Education Program’, that is conducted jointly by the George Washington University (GWU) and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII). The conference has usually been conducted on an annual basis ever since 2003, except for the last year when I don’t think it was held, subject of course to correction.
The last edition of the GWU-CII conference in 2010 came under severe attack from a section of NGOs, who were later joined in their opposition to the conference by one of India’s largest generic manufacturers – Cipla. We had covered that controversy extensively over here, here, here and here. The NGOs and Cipla had a long list of complaints against the conference, the main complaint being that GWU was trying to push through a maximalist, U.S.-Centric IP agenda in India at the behest of Big Pharma and other American lobbies which sponsored the GWU conference. In other words, the allegation against GWU was that it was lobbying under the guise of an academic exercise.
The letter written by the NGO to the Minister of Commerce is available over here. The letter contradicts itself at certain instances. For example, at one instance it states “It is evident that the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court, the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry were not fully informed of who was funding/co-organising this summit.” However, the same letter in the opening paragraph also states “Even though George Washington University claims to organise and co-sponsor with the Confederation of Indian Industry, industry sponsorship is prominently displayed at the IP summit.” (A copy of the brochure was annexed to the letter.)
Well if industry sponsorship was disclosed on the brochure, why would the judges and the Govt. not know of the same? Why the allegations of non-transparent lobbying? At any instance, this kind of “lobbying” is much more transparent than the lobbying conducted by certain Indian NGOs, which make absolutely no disclosure as to the source of their funding. Even the letters signed by these NGOs do not have any names of a single person – just the names of faceless organizations.
Dean Lawrence of GWU, replied to those allegations over here and clarified that industry sponsorship does not dictate the agenda of conferences conducted by GWU. The Dean’s defence of the conference appears to have been confirmed by C.H.Unni of the Mint, who in my opinion is one of the most credible reporters in the print media. Unni’s views on the conference can be accessed over here.
Is the GWU-CII conference good news for India IP? I don’t have the answer to that question.
In my opinion, as long as there is full disclosure about funding and sponsorship, I don’t think we should try to muzzle any particular viewpoint, no matter how much we disagree with it. Sticking our heads in the sand and refusing to any form of dialogue is hardly the best way to debate Indian IP policy.
Also, let’s give our judges and patent office some credit. They have independent minds and are unlikely to be swayed by a supposedly biased conference. In the last two years Roche, Sugen, Pfizer have all lost patent lawsuits, oppositions and revocations. India’s first compulsory licence for a pharmaceutical drug was granted by the former Controller General P.H. Kurian, who was an invitee and attendee to the last edition of the conference.
In any case, let us see what happens over the next month. I’ll try to get hold of the list of speakers and post the same on the blog.
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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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