'Public money wasted on useless patents'

By K.S. Jayaraman, Indo-Asian News Service | Monday, September 04, 2006 | 2:28:53 PM IST (+05:30 GMT) Comment 0 Comment

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is squandering public funds on useless patents, allege some of the agency's own scientists.

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is squandering public funds on useless patents, allege some of the agency's own scientists.

They claim that India's largest public sector research agency is wasting the taxpayer's money in filing patents in the US on spurious inventions.

The patents inflate the scientist's bio-data for awards and promotions but hardly bring any funds into the nation, they add.

Other CSIR officials, however, insist that it is too early for its US patents to make money and that India must be patient.

Each US patent costs the Indian tax-payer about $25,000 for filing and $4,000 annually for maintenance. Between 2002 and 2005, the CSIR obtained a whopping 542 US patents.

But a data-base search shows that the agency's US patents include frivolous inventions like herbal tooth powder, herbal drinks and 'a new method of mixing water with fly ash to make slurry'.

In 2002, the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP), one of the 40-odd labs under the CSIR, took a US patent (No.6410059) for a substance extracted from cow urine, claiming it enhanced antibiotic activity.

The claim did not pass scientific scrutiny and 'has never been substantiated by peer-reviewed publications', U.C. Lavania, a senior scientist at CIMAP, wrote in the Aug 17 issue of the international science journal Nature.

'This kind of activity, which is widespread, diverts millions of dollars from research into filing patents,' he complained.

What has surprised critics is CIMAP's extraordinary feat in taking 80 patents in just four years - half of them in the US - on new plant varieties that Lavania says are unlikely to be cultivated in that country.

Top in the list is CIMAP's US patent for a new variety of poppy plant when, according to US embassy officials, cultivation of poppy is legally not allowed in the country, implying that the patent cannot generate any revenue in the US.

'Obtaining a US patent, especially on plant varieties, is an easy alternative to publishing in peer-reviewed journals for high-profile scientists, because money for filing patents is easily available, with no questions asked about the financial viability of the discovery,' Lavania wrote in Nature.

Nature even nicknamed CSIR as 'India's patent factory' after noting that its US patents exceeded the total number of patents granted to its counterparts in France, Japan and Germany combined.

According to CSIR's chief of patents division R.K. Gupta, not all its US patents turned out to be duds. A cluster of three US patents on a potential anti-cancer molecule has been licensed out to an Indian entrepreneur in the US for $100,000, he said.

CSIR director general Ragunath Mashelkar, whose slogan 'patent or perish' propelled the craze for US patents, said it was too early for CSIR to expect big monetary returns considering that only about three percent of all existing US patents are ever licensed.

'For us to be noticed, we need a portfolio of patents. That is what we are creating,' Mashelkar added.

But critics, including A.V. Rama Rao - former CSIR director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology in Hyderabad, doubt if promoting trivial invention

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