In all the heat and dust generated by the controversial report of the Mashelkar Committee, not much attention has been paid to the damage done to Shamnad Basheer -- the author of the report whose conclusions found their way -- almost verbatim -- into the Committee's report. The damaging allegation is that since his research is somehow tainted because it was funded by the association of multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Through an e-mail alert from Vinod, I have links to two pieces in which Basheer defends himself against the allegation of bias: an interview in the Business Line and an op-ed in the Daily News and Analysis. [Update: Basheer also has a blog post elaborating on his DNA piece].
Here's an extract from the DNA op-ed [with bold emphasis added by me]:
The Committees mandate was to address the following issues:
- Whether it would be TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) compatible to limit the grant of patent for pharmaceutical substance to new chemical entity [NCE] or to new medical entity involving one or more inventive steps; and
- Whether it would be TRIPS compatible to exclude micro-organisms from patenting.
These are critical issues for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. The mandate was only to examine whether certain prospective provisions that are sought to be introduced into Indian patent law would be compatible with the WTO Agreement on TRIPS. The Committee was not mandated to examine provisions that already existed in the patent regime.
The key conclusions of the Mashelkar Committee were that these two prospective provisions, if introduced into Indian patent legislation would contravene TRIPS. These conclusions were borrowed from conclusions that I had arrived at whilst doing a report on the same theme titled Limiting the Patentability of Pharmaceutical Inventions and Micro-organisms: A TRIPS Compatibility Review. This report was commissioned by the Intellectual Property Institute (IPI), UK.
This report, funded by Interpat (an association of multinational pharmaceutical companies) has caused some critics to allege that the Committee report merely reflected an industry agenda. This allegation rests of certain incorrect assumptions: that anything funded by industry has to necessarily represent an industry view, despite the fact that the person commissioned holds himself out as an objective and independent academic. They claim the Mashelkar Committee blindly relied on the conclusions of my paper, without exercising any independent judgment of its own. Though, its members are distinguished academics and known for their integrity. Most importantly, these kind of ad hominem or personal attacks do not answer the question: is there something wrong with the analysis of TRIPS undertaken by me and relied on by the Committee?
I don't know how well Basheer's response will help in redeeming his reputation as an "objective and independent academic". But after reading both the interview and his opinion piece, I can't help feeling that his response is enormously damaging to the Mashelkar Committee.