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Policy Bungling on Incentives for Public Sector S&T

A draft bill on public funded research and development prepared by the department of biotechnology proposes grant of financial incentives to scientists to patent and sell their own research. This is a good example of how legal tinkering or half-baked institutional changes based on inadequate analysis of the existing system will instead restrain science.

COMMENTARYoctober 25, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly16Policy Bungling on Incentives for Public Sector S&TRajeswari Raina, Archita BhattaA draft bill on public funded research and development prepared by the department of biotechnology proposes grant of financial incentives to scientists to patent and sell their own research. This is a good example of how legal tinkering or half-baked institutional changes based on inadequate analysis of the existing system will instead restrain science.There are several laws, rules and norms that govern the conduct of scientific research and utilisation of technologies in society. Socially embed-ded and culture-specific laws or norms can be enacted to enable desirable know-ledge generation and utilisation for development. This essay uses the case of a proposed bill on public funded research and development (R&D) in India to argue that legal tinkering or half-baked institutional changes based on in-adequate analysis of the existing system will restrain science.Proposed BillInstitutional reform is essential for a public sector scientific research system burdened by multiple problems and una-ble to excel in science or deliver the public goods demanded by society. Recent sug-gestions come from the reports of the Na-tional Knowledge Commission (2006), the University Grants Commission (2006), In-dian Council for Social Science Research (2007), the National Commission on Farmers (2006) and the Planning Commis-sion’s steering committee on science and technology for 11th Five-Year Plan (2006); there is no dearth of ideas, recommenda-tions and plans to make public sector R&D more productive and socially relevant. It is in this context that there is a move within the department of biotechnology of the government of India to introduce a new legal instrument – a new bill that grants financial incentives to scientists to patent and sell their own research. Known as the Public Funded Research and Devel-opment (Protection, Utilisation and Regu-lation) Bill, 2007 [DBT 2007] and modelled after the Bayh-Dole Act of the US (1980), this draft bill is likely to be presented to Parliament soon. A select few like Science (Vol 319, No 5863, p 556, February 1, 2008), andDown to Earth (Vol 16, No 21, March 31, 2008) have obtained access to the draft and produced commentaries. Perhaps the draft may be/is being revised; perhaps it may never get to theParliament. Will financial incentives promised to In-dian public sector scientists increase their participation in the technology market in India? What is it that shapes the laws of the technology market and the actors therein? What is the relationship between law and public sector science? How do public goods – information and technology – figure in this relationship? The proposed bill is conceptually challenged on two fronts, in its conceptualisation of (a) incentives, and (b) public goods, and lacks a systems perspective ofR&D. Incentives What are the incentives that ensure excel-lence in science? What motivates a scien-tist to generate relevant knowledge and make it available to specific applications in different sectors of the economy? In In-dia, the incentives that entice the middle class into a career in public sector research are job security (tenured positions with no norms for terminating the services of scientists who do not perform) and good pay-scales (again, never linked to per-formance). The content and conduct of scientific research is tied to incentives like promotions (based on indicators like pub-lications, and more recently, patents), membership and positions of authority in professional associations, scientific bodies/academies, journal editorial boards, review committees (of programmes, research or-ganisations, etc), evaluation committees (of students dissertations, projects), policy-making boards/agencies, and opportunities for travel – to present papers or organise conferences. Tied to allthis is the prestige that comes with excellence in scientific research – the creative potential of, or solutions from, science is an incentive that is enjoyed by a few scientists. Few of the incentives are accessible. A relationship with the authorities in the or-ganisation and know-how to manipulate the administration that controls public sector research are essential to acquire them. The conceptualisation of incentives as financial incentives, over which scien-tists have direct control and ownership contradicts the contexts in which scientific research is conducted. Moreover, there are no incentives for scientists or research Rajeswari Raina ( is with the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and Archita Bhatta ( is with the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 25, 200817programmes to seek proactive linkages with industry and other stakeholders. Our policymakers are yet to realise that thisisthe prerequisite for access to and utilisation of knowledge. Location of Incentives: While the Bayh-Dole Act focuses on the university to pro-vide incentives, enhance university- industry linkages for commercialisation of technologies, the Indian draft bill makes only a passing mention of universities. Its focus is on research institutes in the central research councils. These councils feed on the universities for all their personnel requirements, and have systematically decimated research capacities [Raina and Jain 1997] and teaching quality in the uni-versities [Desiraju 2008; Bhargava 2008]. The proposed bill specifies that the prime authority in any research organisa-tion for all invention-related decisions will be the “head of the organisation”. These include decisions about the nature of re-search that may be sponsored and by whom, the nature of the disclosure or find-ing, the claim or entitlement, the patent and its licensing (to which firm and where), royalties, etc. With administrative overloads that are inimical to the conduct of research, in the absence of quality lab practices and rigorous peer reviews, market intelligence and technology management support, decisions will unfortunatelybe made by the head of the organisation. It is worth noting the contrast with the decision-support system in theUS, where university technology managers, using peer review and market intelligence in-puts, make all invention-related decisions. The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) has more recently pushed for a reconsideration (with new public interest norms of patenting) of the Bayh-Dole Act in the US [Pradhan 2007]. The Bayh-Dole Act in the US may have at best added only one additional incen-tive in a university research culture that was already actively linking up with in-dustry [Rafferty 2008; Mowery et al 2001; Sampath et al 2003; Nelson 2008]. In the late 1970s bioscience and pharmaceutical industry investments in university research, and research results from federally funded science were already in a dynamic phase when the Bayh-Dole became legislation, in 1980. “Changing technological possi-bilities associated with biomedical and pharmaceutical research” and a signifi-cant increase in federally funded basic research during the 1970s were the two crucial factors that led to the “change in patenting and R&D behaviour of universi-ties and colleges” [Rafferty 2008]. Now, when the US is preparing to review and revise the Bayh-Dole Act,we, in India, are planning to graft anequivalent onto a public sector researchsystem that is highly bureaucratic and unprofessional. Indian scientists do not seem to press for fundamental changes in research rules; many are ‘babus’ who want a 9-to-5 job as public sector scientists. To them (it is a ‘BabuDhol’ Act, joke some scientists) this new draft bill is an extension of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) or Indian Council of Agricultural Reserach (ICAR) amended consultancy contract rules or sabbatical leave rules for scientists to work with in-dustry.1 If they provide the same ratio of financial incentives to scientists as this proposed bill envisages, then lack of financial incentives is not the problem constraining generation and utilisation of knowledge/technology. Incentives sans Funds and Quality: The proposed bill seems to offer incentives to scientists when there is a dearth of funds to conduct research. Scientists in Indian universities in particular are starved of research funds. Research support to Indian universities from the central govern-ment – through DST research grants and UGC support – is meagre. For instance, 350 universities receive 36 per cent of the total research grants from the DST; six Indian Institutes of Technology and one Indian Institute of Science receive 21 per cent and 38 national laboratories under the CSIRreceive 31 per cent (2006-07). Moreover, the universities have limited capacities and opportunities to raise re-search funds from industry. Current UGC practice also penalises universities for resources mobilised with a matching deduction from grants-in-aid provided. Within the universities, limited research funding and lack of infrastructure has led to a decline in the importance given to research. The overall decline in high quality research in the country [Gupta and Dhawan 2008] is noticeable. Nearly 85 per cent of Indian S&T publications come from just seven states (Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh). A highly skewed distribution of S&T infrastructure is without doubt an important reason for this publication pattern. But it is worth noting that these seven states are home to reputed universities – perhaps, the only ones retaining some quality in teaching and research. Yet, industry has little faith in the applied research conducted within public sector labs. With import of techno-logy made easier now, industry does not seem to need Indian academic inputs. The more than a decade old “patent or perish” principle perpetrated by the CSIR has yielded few patents that are useful for the industry [Jayaraman 2006; Lavania 2006; Bhatta 2006; Desiraju 2008].Public Goods Rationale: The legal and institutional arrangements made by gov-ernments for investing in and organising public sector science are justified by the responsibility that the state has, to provide technology, openly and equally accessible to all, in any area, where private profita-bility for the service provider is notassured. Public Goods in the Technology Market: The draft bill proclaims that if researchers do not attempt to commercialise the re-search within 90 days of formally disclos-ing their findings, the rights would then vest in the government. Further, that “the proposed legislation imposes obligations and creates rights to optimise the potential of Government inR&D”. The basic assump-tion of this statement is that the purpose of all R&D is commercialisation of knowl-edge, and that this bill places a legal obli-gation on the government, assigning to it the specific role of facilitating thisR&D. In legal terms this draft bill is an instrument devised by the state, which definesitsown role in the knowledge and technology market. The state becomes one of the actors in the technology market, and it creates a rule that assigns itself this role. The role of the government inR&D is optimised– it is obliged to enact the laws (this bill, for instance) and abide by them, creating new
COMMENTARYoctober 25, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly18actors in the technology market and their rights in this commercial arena.A bill of this sort becomes an instru-ment that binds the government and all future scientific research to conform to these obligations and rights. The legal in-strument converts public goods – know-ledge and technologies that are non- excludable, into a sub-set of technologies available in the technology market. This is a legally guaranteed intellectual subver-sion. How will research be conducted in biotechnology, for instance, which relies heavily on fundamental research in the public sector?2 What happens to knowl-edge that is crucial for development, non-excludable and non-patentable? Should public sector scientists stop working on the basic sciences, on applied research for watershed development, soil conserva-tion, forest management, rural market de-velopment, and in the social sciences? The history of economic development tells us that, “technological advance is a collective, cultural and evolutionary process” [Nelson 2004]. Any institutional change or legal instrument that under-mines these collective and evolutionary processes, and limits science from playing its “communitarian” role will seriously hamper the growth of knowledge and the entire economy. A proposal that seeks to legalise and redefine “public goods” as one of the possible items in a technology market is highly suspect. Ideally, the dy-namic linkages and knowledge exchanges between basic science, technology and its utilisation in society (simultaneously lead-ing to new questions in basic science as well as generation of new applications) must be encouraged. This demands a port-folio of legal or institutional instruments that guarantees the dynamism of the pub-lic goods arena, enables different technol-ogy markets, and maintains the space and scope for collective and evolutionary proc-esses that nurture excellence in science and technological advance. Policy Actors: Every nation has over the past century enacted new laws and put in place institutions (rules, regulations, norms, etc) to ensure the generation of S&T public goods – knowledge and techno-logy. There is an increasing concern that the public goods ideal has disappeared from the universities in theUS in the post-Bayh-Dole era, seriously undermining the republic of science [Nelson 2004]. Governments have to decide about sup-porting and organising scientific research without interfering in the autonomy of science, while maintaining public account-ability and ethical/moral control over sci-entific research. The policy expert, a glori-fied form of the conventional expert, emerges in this context, as the new inter-locutor between science and the society that funds (through its public resources) and expects to gain from science. TheS&T policymaker is now considered as an inappropriate actor to make deci-sions about the republic of science and the future of the society it serves. First, the S&T policymaker, given her/his background (at best narrow hard science disciplinary cognition) and social condition, speaks more for the middle class educated profes-sional ilk than for the hungry, illiterate, morbid, unorganised elements in society. Second, in a fragmented and suffocatingly compartmentalised system, these S&T policymakers find it difficult to envision the republic of science. Third is that given their training in the hard sciences, many of them feel an evident discomfiture with the demand for greater stakeholder participa-tion in S&T decision-making. Fourth, the S&T policymaker, in contexts where the govern-ment funds and conducts research under its own centralised bureaucracies, is unable to delineate between the public and the government. They are actors with authori-ty, but without expertise, social awareness, or understanding of the public space which is inhabited by millions of individualusers (farmers, patients, doctors,women,entre-preneurs, etc), private firms, other national and global knowledge suppliers, civil society actors, banks and other service providers. Among the other actors involved in the knowledge and technology generation and utilisation processes, these S&T policymakers stand isolated, as major disincentives for scientists and hurdles for other actors.Incentives for Public Sector The purpose of the proposed bill is to guarantee financial incentives to scientists who wish to commercialise their patented knowledge or technologies. The S&T system in which these scientists are located is owned and operated by the government, starved of funds, oppressed by adminis-trative and bureaucratic norms designed to impede creativity and linkages with other actors in society; it produces mediocre re-search results that the industry is not inter-ested in. The bill proposes to facilitate the entry of public sector scientists and the knowledge (public goods) they produce into the technology market. The root causes of the rot in the system – the S&T bureaucracy and lack of quality in higher education and research are not addressed. The judiciary and the middle class keep the mediocre, centralised and politicised higher education system going; they “militate against pro-ducing general intellectual virtues” [Kapur and Mehta 2004]. A legal quick fix is an ideal solution sought byanon-performing executive. Policymakers who have compro-mised both the quality of scientific research and the capacity of scientists to interact with all the other actors insociety do not even learn from the “positive deviants” in their EPW on JSTORThe Economic and Political Weekly is now on JSTOR. Past issues of EPW from 1966 to 2002 are currently loaded on JSTOR archives. Institutions with access to JSTOR can read and download all EPW articles from 1966 onwards at these archives. EPW issues will be available on JSTOR with a moving wall of five years.Readers can visit for more information.Please note: While access to EPW on JSTOR archives are available only to participating institutions, EPW has been working to digitise its issues going back first to 1966 and ultimately to 1949 (Economic Weekly). The first batch of an expanded archives will be available on the EPW site from January 2009. These will cover 1989 to the latest issue, and by April 2009 they should extend up to January 1949. 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COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 25, 200819midst – ones who have demonstrated how public systems can be changed and technology utilised in society!Is patenting and commercialisation the only way to ensure utilisation of knowledge in society? Can open source systems and proprietary systems coexist in biological, chemical and other applications as they do in the IT industry? S&T policymakers have to find ways to engage with these questions and the actors in private and civic spaces who are competent to address these issues, and convert knowledge into economic goods and services. In a global and domestic con-text dominated by private industry, which increasingly has its own scientists and re-search agenda, the policy objective should be to enhance both the quality and capacity of public sector S&T to interact with, inform and learn from a wide range of actors and sources. A bureaucracy that has held all powers within itself will find it difficult to genuinely engage with other relevant ac-tors. Legal and institutional changes are necessary to enable coalitions of democratic decision-making in S&T. These coalitions can foster appropriate dynamic interactions of scientists with their social constituencies (industry and millions of other relevant technology users), provide incentives for scientists, reaffirm the philosophy of public sector science, ensure widespread access to education, and most importantly, rebuild the quality of higher education in India. Notes1 A brief questionnaire survey conducted in 2007-08 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in 40 institutes under the ICAR and CSIR reveals that not one of them had scientists on sabbatical, working in industry or any service sector agency, though their council rules provide strong incen-tives for scientists to do so. 2 Unlike Chemistry or Physics, where a published research result can be appropriated by industry to create a new product or process, the incremental nature of generic knowledge in biotechnology de-mands a strong foundation of fundamental science and a constant flow of basic knowledge. References Bhargava, P M (2008): ‘On the Organisation of Sci-ence Research in India’, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 43 (31): 70-71.Bhatta, A (2006): ‘Inventive Style’, Down to Earth, Vol 15 (14): 32. DBT (2007): (mimeo) Draft – Public Funded Research and Development (Protection, Utilisation and Regulation), Bill, 2007, Department of Bio-technology, Government of India, New Delhi.Desiraju, G R (2008): ‘Science Education and Research in India’, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 43 (24): 37-43.Gupta, B M and S M Dhawan (2008): Status of India in Science and Technology as Reflected in Its Publica-tion Output in Scopus International Database, 1996-2006, NISTADS (CSIR), New Delhi.Jayaraman, K S (2006): ‘Is India’s Patent Factory Squandering Funds?’,Nature, Vol 442 (7099): 120.Lavania (2006): ‘It’s Easier to Patent Plants Than to Publish Research’, Nature, Vol 442, (7104): 744.Mowery, D, R Nelson, B Sampat and A Ziedonis (2001): ‘The Growth of Patenting and Licensing by American Universities’,Research Policy, Vol 30: 99-119.Nelson, R R (2004): ‘The Market Economy, and the Scien-tific Commons’,Research Policy, Vol 33(3): 455-71. – (2008): ‘What Enables Rapid Economic Progress: What Are the Needed Institutions?’,Research Policy, Vol 37 (1): 1-11.Pradhan, A S (2007): ‘Statement before the US Congress, House of Representatives’, Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, July 17.Rafferty, M (2008): ‘The Bayh-Dole Act and University Research and Development’, Research Policy, Vol 37(1):29-40.Raina, Dhruv and Ashok Jain (1997): ‘Big Science and the University in India’, John Krige and Domin-ique Pestre (eds),Science in the Twentieth Century, Harwood Publishers, pp 859-77.Sampath, B, D Mowery and A Ziedonis (2003): ‘Changes in University Patent Quality after the Bayh-Dole Act: A Re-examination’,International Journal of Industrial Organisation, Vol 21(9): 1371-90.An Unblinking Gaze at Horror: The Dark Dancer Hiren GohainA reading of Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer on the 50th anniversary of its publication – a fictionalised Partition narrative that did not get the attention it deserved.Of late there has been a striking re-vival of interest among scholars in Partition narratives, leading to a spate of publication of books, special issues of journals and articles, as well as a fresh search for oral testimony and research projects on recovery of forgotten sources. Half a century after those traumatic events, scholars less burdened by communal or nationalist hang-ups are trying to exam-ine more dispassionately the grim ordeal of two nation states that were at each other’s throats from the moment of birth, dredging out of repressed memory scenes of manic cruelty and unspeakable horror.There are also clinical studies of per-ception and memory in the discourse of Partition. Apart from eyewitness accounts of excruciating pain and torment, and bestial violence, there have been plenty of stories, novels and poems about the agony of Partition, and they are being carefully listed and surveyed in a paradoxically celebratory spirit.I have not come across in such lists, sur-veys and discussions even a passing mention of Balachandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer (1958, published in the United Kingdom in 1959 by William Heinemann). The gathering storm of Partition displacement, exodus and riots not only form the ominous back-ground of the hero’s personal crisis, but it practically sweeps away everything else from our attention towards the end. Both the hero’s and the nation’s cruel dilemmas are cathartically resolved in the end in a cataclysmic explosion of savage violence.The author of this now forgotten novel, Balachandra Rajan, a former Fellow of Trinity at Cambridge, had joined Delhi University as professor of English in 1960, and his critical acumen as well as scholarship made adeep impression on succeeding batches of students. His forays into fiction added to a formidable reputation. Unfortu-nately his very brilliance aroused resentment and hostility in an academic milieu given to lobbying and cliques, While few could find fault with his scholarship, his attempts at fic-tion became easy targets for carping critics. Hiren Gohain ( is a distinguished Assamese literary and social critic.

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