India is on the way to getting its very own version of the Bayh-Dole Act, the US legislation passed at the beginning of the 1980s which introduced IP certainty to the R&D work done at American universities and helped to kick-start the high-tech explosion that cemented the US as the world’s innovation powerhouse. According to an article in the Business Standard, the issue is currently being discussed by the Indian Cabinet and could soon be put before the country’s parliament.
Business Line, meanwhile, is reporting that the proposed legislation is suggesting inventors get 30% of the revenue from any commercial project based on the patents in question, while the institution involved would get 10%. Of course, Bayh-Dole does not set out how revenues should be allocated and instead leaves it to individual institutions to develop their own schemes.
India would not be the first country to try to imitate the success fo Bayh-Dole. At the end of 2007, for instance, the Chinese passed a law that allows scientists, institutions and universities to own the patents that are created by publicly-funded research which they carry out. However, experience also shows that legislation is not enough if the scientists and institutions at which it is aimed are not willing or able to exploit it. Many academics, for example, are just not suited to building businesses, or regard the idea of doing so anathema; while setting up a technology transfer operation requires significant upfront investment from the institution that is doing it, with no guarantees that anything created will be of interest to anyone.
In India there are also other worries. For example, the Indian Patent Office is chronically understaffed, so there have to be real questions as to whether it could cope with a surge in applications from a new source. In any case, the level of patenting among Indians remains very low – around 80% of patents granted in the country go to foreign concerns. Away from IP, the wide investment hinterland that has allowed start-ups and spin-outs to thrive in places such as the US and the UK just does not exist in India at the moment – something that raises real doubts about how many patents granted can be successfully commercialised. For any Bayh-Dole style legislation to have an impact, therefore, the Indian government will surely have to deal with a whole host of other issues as well. That said, there is no doubting the skill base that exists in India. The problem is that many of the country’s most gifted scientists feel they have to leave in order to make the most of the talents they have.