A blunder undone

THE Prime Minister, P V, Narasimha Rao, took a commendable step by revoking the patent granted to the US company, Agracetus, in 1991. Agracetus was awarded the patent for its transgenic cotton by the Indian Patent Office even though the Patent Act specifically forbids the Patenting of "investing process related to agriculture and horticulture". This patent could have not only harm India's prospects in the cotton trade, it could have also restricted its research. The question that arises is how the patent office could have allowed this to happen. Given the attention from the high charge of the patenting system are busy blaming each other. Their defence is that biotechnology is a new and complex area and it is only human to err in interpreting its varied process.

This case proves beyond doubt that India needs experts at the helm of the patent office. It can no longer afford to let blundering bureaucrats the research work of its scientists. The decisive step taken in the case of the Agracetus patent should also serve as a lesson to the officers of the ministers of agriculture and environment and forests, which are responsible for chalking out our future policies following the completion of the Uruguay round of GATT and the Biodiversity Convention. The new GATT demands that intellectual property rights relating to new life forms be protected, though it allows countries to develop their own systems, as long as they are effective. The new legislation must prevent such mistakes from occurring.

The revocation of the patent for the transgenic cotton has acquired special significance because it has brought out into the open the inherent weaknesses of the machinery enforcing the patent act. These should be taken care of urgently.