The public-funded agricultural research system in India is gradually trying to supplement its "soft" defence against misuse of IP (e.g., through placing assets in the public domain through disclosure) with more aggressive IP protection strategy, in keeping with evolving national and international policy. But IP management in agricultural research in the country continues to be challenged by constraints of scale, human resource, and awareness, among other things. This directly impacts the system's ability to strategically leverage its traditional advantage of being a region rich in agri-biodiversity.
These, and other issues, have been brought to light in an fascinating case study on the Intellectual Property Management Regime in the Indian National Agricultural Research Systems, authored by Dr Kalpana Sastry of the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM). This study forms part of a compilation of four such cases on the Institutionalisation of IP Management in Agricultural Research Institutions in Developing Countries brought out by the Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP). (Dr Sastry, some of you may recall, is also the Course Director of the PG Diploma on IP and Technology Management in Agriculture, which was profiled some time ago on the blog.)
The paper (which you can read/download here) looks at four countries (India, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya), but for this post, I draw your attention to the issues raised in the India study, the stated purpose of which is to "understand and explore modalities to improve the effectiveness of the IP management and technology transfer guidelines in agriculture based public sector institutions in India".
The study itself focuses on the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) system, for reasons of its being the nodal agency for agri-research in India. Since 2006, ICAR has been operating with a three-tier decentralised IP management structure, which is applicable to all the organisations that form part of the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) (see image). Through a micro-study of two institutes within this structure, the study brings out characteristics, challenges and opportunities that are present for successfully managing a potentially rich portfolio.
Two key IP management practices in ICAR emerge:
- Plant variety registration and protection has been prioritised for extant varieties of notified crops (subject to meeting conditions of notification) under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act.
- ICAR guidelines also encourage institutes to deposit samples/resoures at the National Bureaus for Genetic resources, including Plants, Animals, Fish and Microorganisms, primarily for reasons of public interest.
Of more interest is the issues that need attention and intervention, identified through detailed questionnaires set for the institutions under scrutiny. This list is culled from the case study itself, and some of these are generic and/or well-established, but readers are welcome to highlight other distinctive issues in agri-IP-management that may be of relevance here:
- Lack of awareness, knowledge and training among scientists. One responding institute said that only *two* scientists had ever attended awareness programmes at ICAR!
- Speedier processes for registering extant varieties, considering that this is a policy priority for ICAR.
- Streamlining systems to test for Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) for registering plant varieties, and subsequent filing procedures. At present, responsibility/accountability issues have led to duplicate filings, which eat up time and other resources.
- Building, and learning how to build, stronger IP portfolios.
- Exhaustively inventorise, audit and value IP, which is made available through a transparent information system.
- Assessing freedom to operate.
- Systematise agreements with external collaborators and sponsoring agencies.
Although there is the immense caveat that this case study comes from within the ICAR system itself, it does serve as an insight into the workings of this giant elephant that is Indian agricultural research, which could come from nowhere else but from within. More than anything else, it offers an opportunity for policymakers in ICAR to "listen" to its own people, and initiate immediate reforms in its internal IP management to minimise subsequent criticism from the outside.