Sunday, September 4, 2011

More Details of the CPCB Patent Controversy

Yesterday, I had blogged on a patent controversy involving the Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Mr.S.P.Gautam, in which he is alleged to have pushed for the adoption of his own patented device by the CPCB.

Another Times of India report, which I seemed to have missed earlier, has a few more details on the controversy.

According to the report, the invention relates to preservation of animal hides by freeze drying without the use of salts. The invention was patented by the Chairman before he assumed the position at the CPCB. 

Upon taking the reins of the CPCB, the technology was transferred to the Board on a 50-50 revenue sharing basis.

The CPCB in turn licensed the technology to a private entity, Enertech Engineering Pvt. Ltd for a period of 10 years.

In February 2011, the Chairman passed a directive banning the use or transport of leather which had been treated using salts. The leather industry was left with no other option but to purchase units with the patented technology at a cost of Rupees One Crore (INR 10 million).

The disturbing part is that while Chairman claimed the technology had been tested for commercial use, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) did not share the Chairman’s view nor did they approve the technology.

Subsequently, industry organizations voiced their concerns to the Ministry on the cost of using the technology, its ineffectiveness and the arbitrary ban against use or transport of salt-treated leather.

Here’s the Chairman’s response to a TOI query:

"This is not the first patent. Fourteen patents have been signed by the CPCB, including this one, and no issue of conflict of interest was raised in those cases. The CPCB only sets standards. It does not mandate a specific technology, so where is the case of conflict?

According to the Chairman, the directive does not coerce people into using his technology since there were 6 other technologies, which could be employed. To this, voices from the leather industry say:

"It (the patented technology) processes only 5-10 hides at one time and needs 10-12 hours of constant high power. How many such machines are we supposed to put up? The cost of using this would be more than 60% of the cost of the industry. The other alternatives like refrigeration are costlier, so the industry is being forced to adopt the lyophilliser,"

M Rafeeq Ahmed, chairman of the All India Skin and Hides Tanners and Merchants Association, says that the ban on the use of salt treatment for leather was introduced without consulting members of the industry.

According to the Chairman, he was only doing what he was asked to by the Environment far, there is no information on whether an enquiry has been ordered into the issue by the Ministry.

We will keep our readers posted on the issue.

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