The PIL essentially argues that the RTI Act trumps all other information dispensation mechanisms under other specific legislations (such as the Patents Act). In particular, patent information is vital information that should be made available in an easy and affordable manner to the public. A patent is a twenty year monopoly and this monopoly is granted on the promise that the public would benefit through the patent information submitted by the Patentee. Transparency and disclosure of patent information therefore lies at the heart of the patent regime.
Government authorities are deliberately frustrating request to information requests by insisting that the RTI Act does not apply to them. They argue that their own specific legislation (such as the Patents Act) provides for the dispensation of information to the public, and that therefore the RTI Act does not apply. Unfortunately, the information dispensation mechanism under the Patents Act is far from satisfactory. Illustratively, the patent office charges more than 100 times the fee charged under the RTI Act, making it prohibitively expensive for the common man.
In one such instance in 2010, the IPO demanded a fees of Rs. 1,04,000/- (One Lakh Four Thousand Rupees) for supplying certified copies of 26 documents, at Rs. 4,000 (Four Thousand Rupees) per document. Contrast this with the RTI Act wherein any amount of information can be obtained at Rs. 2/- per page. Even if one estimated that each of these 26 documents had 20 pages each, the total would only amount to Rs. 1,040/- (One Thousand and Forty Ruppes). Effectively the difference in fees between the patent office and the RTI is about a100 times!
Secondly, the Patents Act provides for only certain kinds of patent information to be made public. And not for all patent information. Under the RTI Act, all patent information is mandatorily available.
Lastly, there is no time line for provision of information under the Patents Act. We requested for patent working information in relation to cancer drugs, and despite more than 7 months going by, we have not received this information. Under the RTI, this information would necessarily have to be provided within a months time. And if there is any deficiency in the provision of information, there is a grievance redressal mechanism, including heavy fines and prosecution. Unfortunately, the patents act does not provide for any such grievance redressal, leaving the common man at the mercy of government authorities who exercise unbridled discretion in doling out public information.
The matter came up before Hon’ble Chief Justice and Justice Jayanth Nath in Court No. 1 today (August 06, 2014). The Hon’ble Bench has issued notice to Union of India. The matter is posted for October 29, 2014.
The following counsels are representing the Petitioner pro bono:
Senior Counsels: Mr. Salman Khurshid (Senior Advocate and former Minster for Law and Justice) and Mr. Joy Basu (Senior Advocate)
Briefing Counsels: Abhimanyu Bhandari (Managing Partner, Axon Partners LLP), Aanchal Mullick (Senior Associate, Axon Partners) and Sai Vinod (Lawyer)
Mr. Amit Mahajan (Lawyer) is representing the Union of India.