Shamnad Basheer, the man who made IP a lot less intimidating, passes away

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on August 09, 2019 Published on August 09, 2019

Shamnad Basheer

If there is a singular achievement that Shamnad Basheer can be credited with, it will have to be his efforts to make a subject like Intellectual Property (IP) a lot less intimidating. The 43-year-old legal scholar, Basheer, passed away in a car incident in Karnataka, with reports saying his body was found in his car on Thursday.

Basheer was the founder of the SpicyIP blog and more recently the IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education), an organisation that worked to make legal education more inclusive. His blog was not light-hearted, as the name may suggest, and in fact it reported and dissected serious legal cases on healthcare, trademarks, copyrights etc.

SpicyIP’s clincher was that its posts were written in a manner that was understandable to the regular reader unfamiliar with legalese.

The blog was an early bird on IP matters in India, at a time when the country was beginning to grapple with this over-arching concepts that would define, and sometimes be seen as, limiting access to medicines, data, books, music, etc.

It was on healthcare and high-profile patent cases involving drug majors like Novartis and Bayer, that Basheer’s legal contributions became visible. There were those in the pharmaceutical industry who disagreed with his legal interventions in cases. But personal interactions involving disagreements with articles carried by his blog were always met with courteous open-mindedness and none of the TRP-baiting that he admitted that writers sometimes indulged in.

Basheer intervened in cases involving medicines and filed Public Interest Litigations (PILs)including one where he called for drug companies to reveal how they “worked” their patents in India.

“Patent working lies at the heart of a robust innovation ecosystem, for if patents are simply hoarded and not commercialised, it can have perilous effect on this environment. More importantly, ‘abusive’ working of patents in the pharmaceutical sector (such as charging excessive prices or not making a critical drug available to the patient population) can have deleterious public health consequences. Therefore, the requirement that the extent to which a patent is commercially worked be disclosed to the general public,” he had written in an article for BusinessLine’s health-page Pulse. The work on this case was “exemplary”, recalls Leena Menghany, whoworks with the international humanitarian organisation ‘Medicins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF - Doctors without Borders) Access Campaign.

Having known him for over 15 years, she said, “Shamnad kept his independence through teaching and using the resources for public interest. You may disagree with him, but he was there to try and change the system.”

Pointing out that it is public health’s loss, she said, “In a year we have lost Amit, Shah and now Shamnad.” Public health activist Amit Sengupta and the generic drugs industry’s vocal campaigner DG Shah have passed away in the last 10 months.

Published on August 09, 2019

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