Industry and Impartiality!



We are pleased to present to you a guest post by Prof. Srividhya Ragavan on the issue of industry funding and IP research and conferences. This comes in response to a recent post by Prashant wherein he briefly discusses this issue. Some of our earlier posts on this topic can be found here, here, here, here and here.


Industry and Impartiality!

Srividhya Ragavan

I felt that it is time to write specifically about the discussion on impressions from industry funding for academics and conferences. I appreciated Prashant’s post where he had asserted that industry participation per se should not result in creating negative presumptions. Fact is, in my personal experience (which I agree may be different for other people), an industry will not fund unless that funding suits the industry’s agenda. For instance, I cannot imagine PhRMA funding a conference that is convened by Jamie Love on the subject of the importance of compulsory licensing or access to medication. That industry refuses to fund such conferences is, in itself, not a problem. But, it is important to appreciate that academic “mid-wifeing” (whatever that may be) in and of itself will not have a cleansing effect. After all, not all academics subscribe to the same views. It is neither wrong nor unheard of to see academics supporting industry positions.

As a general trend, industries will fund academic work to: a) get more research on facts, improve their presence in that specific subject or even geographic area; b) increase credibility for the industry’s own work by funding an academics who agree with or sympathize with the industry position; or c) generally support the position of academics who work is in alignment with their own position. Unfortunately, there is no overwhelming evidence of industry funding conferences or missions to generate data that they suspect or know may come back to hurt their investors. Thus, NGOs deciding to take positions regarding industry participation or in turn, participating in an industry funded conference because it synergises with their own agenda is appropriate but may not mean much more than that. While it is understandable that some would disagree with the decisions of the organizers of Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest to not allow an Oxford University press stall, it does not make it “absurd”.

For what it is worth, I want to add that Justice Bhandari’s recusal was, for many people, the right thing to do. When judges attend conferences such as those organized by industry associations that overwhelmingly favors one position to the exclusion of all others, it results in creating a strong presumption about the judge’s position, however unfair that maybe. I would expect judges to be aware of their public role and responsibility before they attend such conferences. After all, one of the big functions of conferences is the opportunity to network. I may be naïve, but there are few conferences where industry people support NGOs’ position unfavorable to them during networking or vice-versa. I fully respect and admire those of us who can believe in the totally impartiality of judges who attend conferences organized by industry groups or go on a vacation with family in industry organized trips. However, I think, it is a perfectly reasonable to expect the judge to recuse himself from cases involving the industry in question as a show of propriety. After all, if you can recall, even Chief Justice Roberts recused himself from the LabCorp case because he participated in the appeal process. Judge Rader’s resignation from the Court of Appeals was to prevent a show of impropriety from his actions. It may be worth recalling Lord Denning’s statement that “justice should not only be done but it should seem to be done”.

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