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Varanasi
Friday, May 20, 2022

Bharatiya ethos and tyranny of Intellectual Property Rights

Beset of Covid 19 has perforce world to rethink and reorganize. It has once again reiterated the omnipotence of the nature over humanity. A Covid 19’s spasmodic resurrection in the form of its variants is reminded of the fact that a tiny virus has the capacity to disrupt the entire world.

The lesson, therefore, is, nothing is too small to ignore, but what has caused us to go amiss and why the governments despite their astronomical progress in medical science are retarded in inoculating all their citizens?  The answer is the moorings holding a sway over the global society as a whole. A boundless thirst for the profit making and irrational global laws with the same philosophical nether are endangering life and security of humankind.

Copious vaccines could be made available in the market to fight Covid 19 but they are in the vaults of pharma companies bolted with a patent law resulting in denial of the right to life to many of the natives in poor and developing countries. These companies are so much blinded by profit earning that they are less eager to give precedence to the lives of millions over their earnings.

Clutch of voices from all corners are demanding suspension of intellectual property rights over pandemic drugs in vaccinating hundred percent of the population in the world, however, a lobbying by these pharma companies is so vigorous that even powerful governments are buckling under their pressure.   

Bharat, South Africa and Brazil have demanded for reprieving Covid 19 vaccine patents ascribed to the inventors and the demand is cordially welcomed by most of the developing countries, thereby ruffling a feathers of rich nations who are reluctant to budge before the demand made by developing nations as revenue withering is the primary concern.

Overtly it is Profiteering vs Humanity issue and to some extent it is true, but skin in the game is the clash of ethos of two civilizations. A division in western and oriental thoughts is visible when the world is reeling under the crises.

Judeo-Christian theology presumes human as a sinner, thus knave and rouge nature of the man is the substratum of their set up. All the disciplines emanating from Judeo-Christian tradition emphasizes on the punishment due to the inherent tenuous nature of society which culminates into fostering suspicion and animosity among the different groups justifying more and more protection, isolation and imbalance.

The other end is oriental ideologies, for instance, the philosophical underpinnings of Bharat allowed it to offer vaccines to various countries in need without hankering after pecuniary gains. Bharat Biotech, a producer of an indigenous vaccine evinced readiness to share a vaccine manufacturing formula with all the players in the market for encouraging production much contrast to western vaccine manufacturers.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) maintains  that up to $10bn in global funding is needed to vaccinate low-and middle-income countries. The amount is insignificant in comparison with the profit made by big pharma companies.

Umair Haque, director of Havas Media Lab and founder of Bubblegeneration, tweeted that it is breathtakingly inefficient that the world community is spending multiple times more in making vaccine profits from big pharma companies, instead of just spending $10bn to achieve 70% herd immunity by vaccinating the entire world against the coronavirus once and for all. The greed of pharma companies and governments is at the centre delaying achievement of herd immunity in the world.

Late Mr. Soli Sorabjee once said a “Rule of Law has meant different things to different people at different times and has evoked sharply divergent reactions. To some legal historians it is ‘the unqualified human good’ whereas to others Rule of Law is “a device that enables the shrewd, the calculating, and the wealthy to manipulate its form to their own advantage” in case of Intellectual Property Rights latter meaning is conveniently accepted by rich governments and pharma companies.

Any invention is meant for the evolution of the human being as a whole and deprivation of a large proportion of people from the enjoyment of fruits of evolution by way of patenting is actually discrimination in disguise and in the instance of Covid 19 it is out and out violation of human rights ceremoniously accepted by almost all the nations.

Joseph Stinglitz, a Nobel laureate in his article in Business standard dated 07-12-2021 has made startling revelations about the mockery of philanthropy in the supply of vaccines to needy and poor people across the world according to him “The Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility, an international consortium that promised to send two billion vaccine doses to poor countries by the end of 2021, has shipped only 25 per cent of that amount”.

An unwillingness on the part of rich nations and their pharma companies and threat of punishment from them compelling poor and developing nations to pussyfoot on asserting their rights under Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) enabling them to suspend patents for their security reasons. Rachel Cohen, US director for the non-profit Drugs and Neglected Diseases Initiative  in New York City rightly said “These vaccines are an unparalleled triumph for science, but if only 20% or 30% of the world winds up benefiting, what is the point of the innovation?”

Intellectual Property Right is completely western, regressive, selfish and exploitative idea though much touted as modern and highly sophisticated and its roots are embedded in western culture. The rationale behind it is weird because the whole concept is based on non-competition and monopolization for specific years nevertheless certain exceptions are carved out on the paper by virtue of law which are conveniently invoked or ignored by dominant countries.

The intellectual property rights are creating unholy conditions in market causing stealing of traditional knowledge of countries like Bharat and securing patent on that for private gains. A vast ocean of Bharatiya traditional knowledge bearers never felt so much insecurity as they are perceiving today just because of strangulating nature of intellectual property rights.

Wider discussion is necessary on this entire problem apart from monetary gains. Few years back management as a discipline was too much focused on financial benefits to the organizations, however, gradual development in it has persuaded all to render equal importance to the human development and cooperation for holistic pattern of growth.

A similar brain storming is required on intellectual property rights and much more than that sociological, cultural, environmental and developmental factors have to be given edge over cut throat competition. No one can bat for perdition of intellectual property rights in today’s world, however, progress and meaningful survival of the nations and civilizations depend on information symmetry therefore a balance approach is required so as to avoid coagulation of know-how in few hands.

World has witnessed Budapest open access initiative or Open source initiative where idea of open access was supported. World’s top universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Open University (OU) have shown interest in such an innovative and useful study methodology and this interest has encouraged the development of numerous open courses. It confirms that the ethical access to intellectual property is slowly but steady entrenching in the discussion among intellectuals.

Bharatiya ethos play an important role in this churning. We have a tradition of sharing knowledge with the world since the time immemorial. Bharatiya sages were at the forefront in the inventions and their contribution is boundless be it a science or any other field but they never invented a method such as patenting or copyrighting their products thus, sharing a knowledge from generation to generation was norm.

Collective development was a motto rather than reaping the undue advantage of knowledge asymmetry in the society. A lobby groups with a new perspective are required at international and national level for the development of progressive intellectual property rights and Bharat with its rich cultural heritage has a potential to drive this mission.

-by Shrijeet Padhke

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