Saturday, March 17, 2007

R. A. Mashelkar resigns from patent panel following plagiarism charge

In a shocking development, former CSIR Director General R A Mashelkar has resigned as head of a committee of technical experts, charged with looking into Indian patent law.

A report of the committee in Dec. 2006 was seen as favouring big pharma companies, and plagiarism was alleged in a section of the report that was apparently lifted verbatim from a testimony by big pharma companies to Mashelkar's panel.

The Business Standard reported the matter in the following way:

Raghunath Anant Mashelkar has resigned as the chairman of the technical expert group (TEG) on patent laws to make way for other members of the group to take an independent view on the “technical inaccuracies” that have “inadvertently” crept into its controversial December 2006 report.

Mashelkar, who retired as director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research about three months ago, told Business Standard that he had put in his papers on 15 March in the wake of a “personalised attack” against him that questioned his integrity, competence and motives.

He wants the report to be made error-free by remaining members of the committee including Madhav Menon of the National Law School, University Grants Commission Vice-chairman Mulchand Sharma, International Council of Scientific Union president Govardhan Mehta and former Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-chancellor Ashish Dutta.

“It is only fair to be away from a decision making process when people express motives or doubts in your action. I am no more a public servant. As far as I am concerned, I am off with it,” Mashelkar added.

Ever since the TEG report came out on 29 December 2006, the Left parties and public interest groups like the National Working Group on Patent Laws have been alleging that the report was biased in favour of multinational companies. Later, portions of the reports were found to have been taken from an international report, prompting Mashelkar to withdraw the report for rectifying the inaccuracies. Mashelkar’s resignation and complete dissociation with TEG has come at a time when the government finally allowed TEG to rectify the mistakes.

A discussion of the Mashelkar incident, from a perspective NOT favorable to Mashelkar, appears at nanopolitan.blogspot, and includes the text:

I understand Professor Mashelkar is a very distinguished scientist. Nonetheless, this is much more than just a "slip -- in the rush of the last working day", as he called it. Having said that, this report minus annexes could have been written by five reasonably hardworking people in one day quite easily! As for his talk of "technical inaccuracies", that's an incredible euphemism for plagiarism; rather like Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" for what others might call "indecent exposure."

Finally, the whole report looks very suspicious to me. My guess is that the conclusions had been decided on from the start. This would explain their total disinterest in producing any original and objective legal and technical evidence to support those conclusions. I think they just couldn't be bothered. Therein lies the real scandal of this affair, not the plagiarism.

One commenter to the blog wrote of the OTHER committee members:

They have signed the report and are equally ''guilty'' as Mashelkar. Team physio doesn't go out and bat. I agree that Mashelkar would share the larger blame, as a captain would, but can you exclude the other eleven players from criticism? [IPBiz asks: what of the co-authors of the Jan-Hendrik Schon papers? What of the co-authors of the Hwang Woo Suk papers?]

IPBiz notes of the text --that the conclusions had been decided on from the start. This would explain their total disinterest in producing any original and objective legal and technical evidence to support those conclusions.--, one could easily make the same statements about the NAS report on patent reform ["A Patent System for the 21st Century," Stephen A. Merrill, Richard C. Levin, and Mark B. Myers, Editors, Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge-Based Economy, National Research Council, which report should have paid a lot more attention to Robert Clarke's warning, published in JPTOS, about comparing US patent grant rates to those of other countries.]