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Patent Disputes

People, Before Profits: India’s Patent Law Under Attack

India is home to a large generic medicines industry that supplies much of the developing world with affordable medicines.  This is because the country previously did not grant patents on medicines, allowing this industry to develop and the competition between manufacturers to drive drug prices  down. 
But in 2005, India was required to start granting patents on medicines as part of its World Trade Organization obligations. Activists mobilised to ensure that medicines would not be priced out of reach because of patents. As a result, the Indian government designed their revised patent law to be very strict in ensuring that medicines patents are only granted for truly innovative products that deserve patent protection, and to prevent patents being granted on products that don’t meet those criteria.
Since its creation, this law has come under steady attack from the multinational pharmaceutical industry whose profits it threatens.
The Novartis case
Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis took the Indian government to court in 2006, after the company’s request for a patent on a cancer medicine was denied. Not only did the company appeal against the patent rejection itself, but it also sought to overturn that part of the patent law used to reject the patent. If Novartis had won, drug patents would likely be granted far more widely in India.
In response, MSF launched the ‘Drop the Case’ campaign to urge the company to back down.  A global mobilisation against Novartis was backed by an international petition that gathered 420,000 signatures. Novartis lost its case in August 2007, but continues to appeal against the ruling in the Indian courts.
Bayer attacks generic competition
In February 2010, an Indian court stopped the German drug giant Bayer’s latest attempt to introduce new measures to prevent generic competition in India. Bayer was seeking to create a new barrier to generic competition by delaying the approval process that generic drugs are required to follow in order to be sold in the country. This would have hampered access to more affordable generic medicines. Bayer intends to appeal against this decision to the Supreme Court.
Europe’s trade deal to sidestep public health provisions
Europe has been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with India, including several provisions to ramp up the intellectual property rights for the multinational pharmaceutical industry and allow them to severely restrict production by India’s generic drug manufacturers.  This is just another way in which big pharma is trying to get around the public health protections embedded in India’s patent law.
The deal is one of a number of bilateral trade agreements underway between Europe and other developing countries that contain such potentially damaging provisions.
Last updated July 2011

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