Friday, October 14, 2011

OSDD – Redefining IPR in open source innovations

The monopolization of knowledge as an individual property has always been a much debated issue. The pros and cons of patent technology and award of IPR has been a long debate, dating back to 1421 when world’s first patent was arguably granted to Filippo Brunelleschi for an improved method of transporting goods up and down the river Arno in Florence, and with the most recent reforms in the patent acts by the US government the debate still continues. With the emergence of open source as a trend in technological innovations the question of the possibility of co-existence of patent rights and technological innovations in open source mode cropped up giving way to further debates and discussions. Patents and open source products have been conceived to be fundamentally incompatible and there have been numerous efforts towards the development of models that bring together patents and open source which has resulted in the development of open source licenses like the GPL.

Patenting is known to play a very crucial role in the development of new products in pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries.Both pharmaceutical and biotechnological industries are research intensive and patents play an important role in establishing market monopoly and ensuring social returns. British economists Taylor and Silberston, based on a survey of UK R&D managers, suggest that pharmaceutical R&D expenditures would be reduced by 64 percent in the absence of patent protection. While patents play a vital role in governing market monopoly, and have been instrumental in motivating pharmaceutical innovations the manufacturing interest in itself is largely governed by purchasing capacity of the consumer population and demand. This mechanism is quiet evident when one compares the existing markets for so called new age diseases like cancer and diabetes and diseases that afflict the invisible population of the developing countries like TB and malaria. Unfortunate is the fact that patents as a mechanism to ensure Return on Investment (ROI) from the market fail to play the role it plays as a driver of innovation in the pharma industry. Lack of profitable market incentives has discouraged the effort of manufacturing drugs for neglected diseases that affect the poor population of the third world.

OSDD is a multifaceted drug disocvery project that is offering a sensible and practical model that aims at converging patents and open source innovations. It is a common assumption that open source innovations and patent systems are far from co-existence OSDD through its noble quest to discover drugs in an open source mode is also a novel initiative towards recalibrating the patent systems. The current status of dry drug pipeline for neglected tropical diseases like TB, along with the understanding that in the absence of a market size that attracts the interests of the pharmaceutical industry, Intellectual Property (IP) Rights as a legal system has limited role to play in fostering innovation is the is the key motivation behind OSDD.OSDD is proving that an IP neutral approach towards drug discovery and development is in fact the  best way to ensure affordability and accessibility of drugs in market. This approach is quite Contrary to the popular perception of patents as a legal system to exercise control and as a means of monetary gain. OSDD, despite mandating the open sharing of data by the participants on the community portal doesn’t hamper the patenting of any of the original data or hinder further research on any of its patents by any group anywhere. OSDD understands that researchers may be contributing patented inventions to OSDD or there may be cases where the inventors worked in an open source environment yet would like to file patents. OSDD though an open platform of research, encourages such patenting for ensuring attribution to the inventors and for proving the non-obviousness of the research.
 OSDD has a unique view on patents and the instances were inventions are covered by patents, it is to fulfil the following objectives:

1.    Affordability and Accessibility – Most of the pharmaceutical companies don’t undertake drug discovery for neglected diseases and this task has been undertaken by OSDD. But along with discovery of new potent drugs it is also crucial to ensure the affordability and accessibility of the drugs. Patented inventions of OSDD are to ensure that the drugs are licensed non exclusively, as a generic drug, utilizing open competition in the market, removing the monopolistic nature of IP for access in developing countries

2.     The second objective of patenting in OSDD is to ensure quality control of downstream drug manufacturing, by licensing to only those entities who employs quality processes during drug manufacturing

3.    Thirdly OSDD supports patenting based on general public licence that ensures that the subsequent innovations which follow on the existing patent remain openly accessible through the OSDD community through its viral clauses.

OSDD is thus emerging as a unique healthcare model that blends together the policies of patenting and innovative open source research to make drugs for neglected diseases prevalent in developing countries easily accessible and affordable without price monopolies. It is indeed the need of the hour that we develop a balanced view towards health as a right, and health as a business (quoting Dr Samir K Brahmachari).Models like OSDD which can assimilate together the concepts of patents and open source research are required to bring out more innovative breakthroughs that can change the lives of underprivileged population across the globe.

Acknowledgements : Project Director Zakir Thomas