AN OPEN LETTER TO MR TASADUQ MUFTI:
BETTER STOP ENCOURAGING ROTTEN METHODS FOR REWARDING INNOVATORS IN KASHMIR
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad (PhD)
Dear Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Coordinator Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell, I hope that this humble piece of writing finds you in good spirits. I am writing this letter as a response to your recently undertaken initiatives towards “formulating a roadmap in bringing J&K state into the innovation and technology map of India”. As a Coordinator of Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell, you in fact facilitated a meeting with the officials of CIPAM (Cell for IPR promotion and Innovation) from Union Ministry of Industries and Commerce in your office on December 9, 2017. The meeting according to the released press note “was a step towards creating an ecosystem of innovation and technology in the state.” And to achieve this noble idea you have decided to establish exclusive IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) cells in all universities, colleges, and schools in Jammu and Kashmir.
Well, first of all, let me compliment you for your marginal acknowledgement of the significance of innovations. Certainly, innovation is the key to economic prosperity and development. We can’t grow or develop much if we continuously try to evade from the discourses on innovations. This part of your recent agenda is less sticky. The problem however arises when a future politician and someone holding a responsible office encourages rotten ways of rewarding innovations in Kashmir. Your vehement support and unflinching love for modern day IPRs actually provoked me to address this small open letter to you.
Presumably, two things could have encouraged you to make such bold statements in defense of patents: First, it could be your naivety and less understanding of the whole issue of IPRs in the development discourses and second it could be a deliberate policy attempt to push Kashmir to a cobweb of unending misery. Dear Tasaduq, if you believe that modern day intellectual property system will unleash innovations in Kashmir, then you are entirely mistaken. Intellectual property is in fact an intellectual monopoly that hinders innovations rather than helps the innovators and the states grow. For the brevity of this argument let me cite a report published in 2015 with the title “Innovation: Time to fix patents” in The Economist, the popular English magazine which encourages economic liberalism and supports free trade and globalization. With credible evidences on the contributions of patents, the Economist concludes that the modern day patent regime actually hampers innovations and is actually a rotten method of rewarding them. It’s time to fix patents, maintains the Economist. Likewise, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine the two leading economists at the Washington University in a new book titled ‘Against Intellectual Monopoly’, published by Cambridge University Press indorses the opinion that the current patent/copyright systems should be abolished without any further delay because it discourages and prevents inventions from entering the marketplace. “From a public policy view, we’d ideally like to eliminate patent and copyright laws altogether,” says another Distinguished Professor of Economics David Levine, at the Washington University. He further argues that license fees, regulations and patents are now so misused that they drive up the cost of creation and slow down the rate of diffusion of new ideas. Even the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) a specialized UNO agency for promoting IPRs across the globe in a study published in 2013 concludes that IPRs can create incentives for investment in research and development (R&D) but they can also lead to static inefficiencies in the form of monopoly prices. Joseph Stiglitz, another American economist and the recipient of 2001 Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Science in a recently published Guardian article on 19 October 2017, contends that the “The IP standards advanced countries favor typically are designed not to maximize innovation and scientific progress, but to maximize the profits of their big companies.” Stiglitz with his colleagues offer ample evidences which show that the majority of theories and empirical evidences which encourage IP Laws are increasingly inadequate to govern global economic activity and are poorly suited to meet the needs of developing countries and emerging markets. They are inimical to providing for basic human needs such as adequate healthcare, contends Stiglitz.
Dear Tasaduq, in Kashmir, most of the inventive activities happen in the informal economy and the set of IPRs you encourage today regrettably operate negatively and carry many maladaptive features with them. No tangible benefits have reached to the local innovators by maintaining what you call ‘exclusivity’ over the know-how related to their innovations though various forms of IPRs. Even Geographical Indication (GI) for the shawl industry has horribly failed. Considering these maladaptive features of modern day IPRs many economists would rightly disagree with Abraham Lincoln’s widely propagated notion that patents are designed “to add fuel to the fire of genius”. During my eight years of extensive field visits in Jammu and Kashmir, almost all innovators I interacted with reported a near complete unfamiliarity about the role of patents and trade secrets. For instance, Ab Rehman Parry (55), from Shalimar Srinagar inventor of an electric spinning wheel does have some clue about the patents but possesses barely any knowledge about the procedures involved in the patent application. His father Late Ghulam Mohammad Parry was also an innovator and was awarded patent in 1977 for a period of 14 years vide patent no 146031 dated 26/03/1977 for an improved stove. As I attempted to enquire whether he and his father have ever used the granted patent, the innovator responded in negative. Hence, even the awarded patents could scarcely bring any pecuniary benefits to the innovators in a context like Kashmir. His father in an attempt to scale up his innovation with his patent ended up in jail.
Given that patent is a legal right extended to protect the interest of innovators, one wonders how much protection such patents will offer to these ‘ignorant’, ‘unaware’ individuals against the probable disputes. Concerns of similar nature, albeit in a different context, are raised by David Noble, in his magnum opus ‘America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism and Bessen and Meurer’s Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk. They argue that individual innovators find it increasingly difficult to reap the benefits of their innovations due to high costs of legal pursuance. From the conversation I had with the local innovators both individual and the community innovators it became evident to us that modern IPRs potentially operate negatively in our context. Another problem with the patents is that its rewards reach the inventor's ex-post facto, which leaves them with the problem of funding their project up front.
Dear Tasaduq, rewarding innovators in Jammu and Kashmir with the patents, as we have observed, can also have grave social problems. Property rights, although fundamentally is a medium of self-expression argues Rabindranath Tagore becomes intensely individualistic, and ‘anti-social’. It affects the value of co-operation and social commons. This is an important point we all should keep in mind before we advocate for patents. Many innovators come from the rural settings; giving them the exclusive rights might exclude the other anonymous contributors. As we noticed, many innovations are not always the result of individual efforts; the support of anonymous actors (parents, relatives, neighbours etc.) is quite explicit.
To conclude, I would suggest that you and your government should find right incentives for the local innovators and for all those who try explore the unknowns. Setting up patent cells in Kashmir sounds ludicrous and a policy blooper. I would suggest we better stop encouraging rotten methods of rewarding innovations in Kashmir.
The author hails from Halmatpora, Kupwara. He is co-author of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South’, published by Taylor and Francis, Routledge, UK. He can be reached at email@example.com.