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NFSI 2020 Lead-up Events

Event 1: A Lecture by Prof. Shubha Ghosh on Making Without Taking

The Working Group 3 (Arenas of New Knowledge Production and Indian Public Policy) of the international conference New Frontiers in Sanskrit and Indic Knowledge, kicked off its events on 2 November 2020, with a very thought-provoking online lecture by Prof. Shubha Ghosh (Crandall Melvin Professor of Law and Director, Intellectual Property and Technology Commercialisation Law Program Director, Syracuse Intellectual Property Law Institute (USA)).

Prof. Ghosh presented his paper ‘Making Without Taking’ on which he is working and in which he explores perspectives on IP (Intellectual Property) rights based on the Bhagavad Gītā, one of the most influential texts from Indian culture. The talk was anchored around the Bhagavad Gītā verse— 

karmaṇyevādhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana।
mā karmaphalaheturbhūrmā te saṅgo'stvakarmaṇi।।2.47।।

‘You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake and do not be attached to inaction.’

This verse provides a middle way between the two paths of pravṛtti (action) and nivṛtti (renunciation/inaction) by urging the agent to act but to not be motivated by the results of the action.

However, this verse, Prof. Ghosh, reminds us, drawing from the interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi, does not mean we ignore the consequences of our action or be indifferent to the results. In Prof. Ghosh’s words “The lesson is to serve humbly…Our duty is to act in the world as we find ourselves in it and to seek not rewards, or fruits, or consequences, but the humility of serving.”

As one can immediately spot, this view conflicts with the idea that invention and creation are goal directed, i.e. they are done with specific ends in mind; for the result. Further, when such inventions are protected by IP laws, it appears that those actions are not only motivated by the rewards but also entail a right to the reward. This, ‘make and take’ attitude seems antithetical to the teaching of the Gītā. Prof. Ghosh offers some “accommodations and a path to reconciliation” by drawing our attention to the recognition given to communal development in IP laws and policies. He also mentions how theories supporting ‘partial appropriation’ of the gains of innovation can be used in this reconciliation.

Prof. Ghosh makes a very pragmatic assumption that “individuals will pursue their narrow self-interest.” However, “…over time, how one conceives of one's interest might evolve to include broader constituencies and relationships that extend beyond one's immediate material concerns.” Meanwhile, Prof. Ghosh suggests that “legal rules should be constituted around ethical norms, such as the nuanced consequentialism [he identifies] in the [Gītā].” Under this ‘nuanced consequentialism,’ the owner of the intellectual property is situated in “a network of relationships which creates duties and obligations” rather than assuming the primacy of their (the inventors’) rights. In this way, IP laws can be (and are, as shown by the legal cases quoted as examples by Prof. Ghosh) sensitive to the consequences.

The talk was followed by an interactive session in which participants presented their comments and questions. One issue which repeatedly came up in the interaction session was that of common or shared innovation. Prof. Ghosh answered all the questions as comprehensively as possible and at the same time provided further points about which the participants could continue thinking.

The conference and the Working Group 3, could not have asked for a better beginning. Such attempts at bridging ancient Indian wisdom and modern ideas is a sure way to enrich both of them. Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth is grateful to Prof. Ghosh for accepting our invitation and presenting his ideas.



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