(Trinidad Express) A scandal of “major proportions” has broken out over this country’s treasured steelpan—specifically, this country’s latest inventions, the Genesis (G) pan and Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI) pan.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan announced yesterday that Government is taking legal action against Prof Brian Copeland, chairman of the Steelpan Initiative Committee (SIC) and Steelpan Initiative project (SIP), and three associates for registering the PHI pan as their own, for selling the G-pan and for “virtually hijacking these inventions …for their private commercial gain”, in breach of the law. Copeland, a Dean of Engineering at the University of the West Indies (UWI), won the nation’s highest award in 2008 for his contribution to steelpan development.
Ramlogan stated at a news conference at his Port of Spain office yesterday: “The enquiries and the advice (I received) have identified what appears to be a considerable prima facie case and evidence of breach of trust by Prof Brian Copeland and, I daresay, borders on outright fraud on the people of this country. The enquiries reveal that as chairman of the committee set up to safeguard the intellectual property rights in the steelpan and, particularly, in the G-pan and any new inventions and innovations that arise out of that, instead of protecting those rights, Prof Copeland has himself, I am advised, sought to take away those rights by claiming personal ownership and seeking to personally benefit from these instruments, including profits of the PHI pan, which was invented using Government’s money”.
“The enquires also reveal that in breach of his position of trust, he has registered himself, Marcel Byron, Phillip Earl and Keith Maynard as the owners of the property rights in the PHI pan,” he said.
Ramlogan said he was startled at the level of breach of trust. Copeland was the chairman of this committee, directly tasked with the development of such steelpans. The committee was expressly mandated to secure the intellectual property rights for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Copeland himself emphasised this objective at a meeting held on November 3, 2005 at UWI. He said the project was funded by the people of this country to the tune of $34.5 million.
“How can a chairman, appointed with terms of reference to safeguard the interest of the people of this country and to act in good faith, so blatantly ignore his terms of reference and claim ownership rights when those rights he was intended …to protect and preserve for the people of Trinidad and Tobago?”
Ramlogan said the “blatant disregard for this fiduciary responsibility and trust” took place earlier when Copeland registered the Genesis (G) pan as his own. However, he subsequently had to assign it to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
“However…he subsequently marketed the G-pan without the permission of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago…to profit from it…and furthermore, has not accounted for the proceeds of such sale which, in my view, were illegally conducted,” Ramlogan stated.
He added that money belongs to the Government and people of this country and, therefore, action is coming for the recovery of those funds.
Ramlogan said he was advised Government has a right to pursue, under Section 59 and 60 of the Patents Act, actions for the revocation of patents granted to Copeland and his associates for the PHI pan and to take such action as is necessary to secure the interest of this country for the recovery of the intellectual property rights and ownership of the PHI pan and for any income that may have been lost to the people of Trinidad and Tobago by their (Copeland and others) “illegal” act.
“As to why the previous administration, given the publicly known relationship between Patrick Manning and Prof Brian Copeland, did not attempt to stop this, whereby the steelpan and the initiatives and innovations, funded by the people of this country for the benefit of this country; why they didn’t put a stop to the intellectual property rights being frittered away and being commercialised and exploited by Copeland and his associates remains a mystery that perhaps only those in the former administration can answer,” Ramlogan stated. “I am amazed that this has been going on for years,” he added.
Ramlogan said in an April 2006 draft agreement to the permanent secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, Sandra Marchack, submitted by Copeland, he acknowledged the Government had “reserved onto itself for its exclusive use and benefit in the (SIC) project, and all research and concept, design, improvement and development and further inventions, whether patentable or not, in connection with this project”.
“So he well knew and fully understand that the Government’s intention…was that it would claim intellectual property rights in the G-pan and further inventions,” Ramlogan noted.
The SIC and SIP were mandated to develop steelpan and technology and protect these property rights for the Government and people of this country, the Attorney General noted.
He said the minutes of a meeting held on October 26, 2005 between the then prime minister, Patrick Manning, and members of the SIC, of which, among others, Prof Brian Copeland was a member, at Whitehall, Port of Spain, which dealt with the invention of the Percussive Harmonic Instrument, spoke about the “award of a patent in the name of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the development of the steelpan described and for all intellectual property rights arising from the development and research activities leading to the creation of the new instrument”. “That was the clearly expressed intention at the time that the SIC was set up,” he said.
The probe team which uncovered this “scandalous state of affairs” was led by Vincent Nelson, QC.
Attempts to reach Copeland for a comment yesterday proved futile.