Feature story |

Novartis attacks Indian patent law again threatening furture of access to affordable medicines

Geneva/New Delhi,28 August 2009 — International humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is gravely concerned by yet another law suit that Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis has filed before the Indian Supreme Court.

The case is the latest in a series of legal proceedings launched by Novartis challenging public health safeguards in India’s patent law.

“Novartis is once again attacking a key public health safeguard in India, the 'pharmacy of the developing world,” said Michelle Childs, Director of Policy at MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. “After losing their battle to get Section 3(d) out of India’s patent law, they are now trying a new tactic to weaken it. If they succeed it could take much of the substance out of a public health provision, which has already demonstrated its importance in securing access to medicines.”

Novartis’ previous attempt to strike down Section 3(d) of India’s Patents Act, 1970 was rejected by the Madras High Court in August 2007. Section 3(d) prohibits ‘evergreening’ – the practice of multinational pharmaceutical companies to extend their patent terms by making small, trivial changes to existing medicines and thereby preventing access to generic affordable drugs.

Under Section 3(d), patents will not be granted for new uses or new forms of existing medicines. However, some new forms of existing medicines may get patents if the company can demonstrate a significant increase in efficacy.

In June 2009, the Indian Intellectual Property Appellate Board ruled that Novartis was unable to show the significant increase in efficacy and could not be granted a patent on imatinib mesylate – a salt form of imatinib, brand name Glivec.

Novartis is now seeking to challenge how efficacy is interpreted and applied by Indian courts and patent offices. The key issue in this case revolves around the interpretation of Section 3(d).

“We are quite concerned about this new case,” said Loon Gangte of the Delhi Network of Positive People. “Many of the oppositions we have filed against patent applications on key HIV drugs are based on Section 3(d). In fact we had an important victory when the patent for nevirapine paediatric syrup was rejected based on Section 3(d).’’

The case is likely to come up before the Indian Supreme Court on Monday, 31 August 2009.