‘Data Protection’: Needs A Clear Direction…But Is It An IPR Issue?

The terminologies ‘Data Exclusivity’ and ‘Data Protection’ are quite often used interchangeably by many, creating a great deal of confusion on the subject. However, in a true sense these are quite different issues having critical impact on public health interest of a nation.

In several media reports as well, one can notice the interchangeable use of these two terms. It is especially happening when the reports are speculating whether or not the Government of India is considering putting in place ‘Data Exclusivity’/ ‘Data Protection’ along with ‘Patent Linkage’ through administrative measures, without making any amendments in the Patents Act 2005 of the country.

Tracking this development, the last week, I wrote about ‘Patent Linkage’. In this article, I shall dwell on the same area, but from ‘Data Exclusivity’/ ‘Data Protection’ perspective.

A brief overview:

Close to a decade ago, Government of India constituted ‘Satwant Reddy Committee’ to recommend a direction that India should follow on ‘Data Protection’ in the country involving pharmaceutical and agricultural products.

In 2007 the Committee submitted its report recommending ‘Data Protection’ in the country to be introduced for pharma products in a calibrated manner. However, the report did not specify a timeline for its implementation.

Interestingly, even this committee did not differentiate between the terminologies ‘Data Protection’ and ‘Data Exclusivity, as we now see in the first draft of the ‘National IPR Policy.’

According to available reports, after due deliberation, the erstwhile Government decided not to take any action on the committee’s recommendations for ‘Data Protection’ in India.

Difference between ‘Data Protection’ and ‘Data Exclusivity’:

In an article published in ipHandbook, titled “Data Protection and Data Exclusivity in Pharmaceuticals and Agrochemicals”, the author Charles Clift with a great deal of experience in the U.K. Department of International Development (DFID) and a former Secretary, Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health, World Health Organization; differentiated these two terminologies as follows:

Data Protection (DP): Protection of commercially valuable data held by the drug regulator against disclosure and unfair commercial use.

Data Exclusivity (DE): A time bound form of Intellectual Property (IP) protection that seeks to allow companies recouping the cost of investment in producing data required by the regulatory authority.

Arguments in favor of ‘Data Exclusivity’:

International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), Geneva, in its website argues in favor of ‘Data Exclusivity’ as follows:

- Health authorities require, as part of a submission for a marketing authorization, that proprietary information be disclosed in order to ensure public health and patient safety.

- The innovator assumes the entire risk for the generation of the data, what requires expensive and lengthy clinical trials.

- ‘Data Exclusivity’ is necessary to provide a measure of certainty to the innovator that they will be provided with a period of protection for their efforts of testing a drug.

- Patents and ‘Data Exclusivity’ are different concepts, protect different subject matter, arise from different efforts, and have different legal effects over different time periods

Arguments suspecting the intent of ‘Data Exclusivity’:

The above paper of Charles Clift highlights the following on DE:

- The effect of DE is to prevent entry of generic competitors, independent of the patent status of the product in question.

- DE law, wherever applicable, prevents generic manufacturers from using innovators’ test data, though it would allow the drug regulator to analyze this data prior to market approval.

- Even if the patent period has expired or there is no patent on a product, DE will act independently to delay the generic entry until the period of DE is over.

- In that way DE compensates innovators for delayed market entry and concomitant loss of potential profits.

- DE is a much stronger right than a patent, mainly because, unlike patent law, there is no exceptions or flexibilities that allow the governments to provide the equivalent of Compulsory License (CL).

- DE acts as a barrier to CL of a patent on the same product by preventing marketing approval for a CL.

TRIPS Agreement talks about DP, but not DE:

Article 39 of TRIPS Agreement on “Protection of Undisclosed Information” contains a general clause on the obligations of the members of the WTO, where Article 39.3 specifies three obligations for its member countries as follows:

- To protect data on New Chemical Entities (NCE), the collection of which involves considerable effort, against unfair commercial use.

- To protect these data against disclosure, except where necessary to protect the public

- To protect such data against disclosure, unless steps are taken to ensure that the data are protected against unfair commercial use

According to Charles Clift, Article 39.3 only articulates widely accepted trade secret and unfair competition law, and is not an invitation to create new IP rights per se for test data. Nor does it prevent outside parties from relying on the test data submitted by an originator, except in case of unfair commercial practices.

Some developed countries, such as the United States and the European Union have argued that Article 39.3 of TRIPS requires countries to create a regime of DE, which is a new form of time-limited IP protection. However, it is worth noting that in both these countries DE regime was adopted prior to TRIPS Agreement. Hence, many experts construe such approaches and pressure, thus created for DE, as ‘TRIPS Plus’.

What is ‘TRIPS Plus’?

The ‘TRIPS-Plus’ concept would usually encompass all those activities, which are aimed at increasing the level of IP protection for the right holders, much beyond what is required for conformance of TRIPS Agreement by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Some section of the civil society nurtures a view that ‘TRIPS Plus’ provisions could significantly jeopardize the ability, especially, of developing countries to protect the public health interest adequately.

Some common examples of ‘TRIPS Plus’ provisions:

Common examples of ‘TRIPS Plus’ provisions could include:

- Extension of the patent term beyond usual twenty-year period

- Introduction of provisions, which could restrict the use of CL

- Delaying the entry of generics

Is ‘Data Protection’ an IPR issue?

In my view, the issue of ‘Data Protection’ is more a drug regulatory than an IPR related subject and should be treated as such. This is because ‘Data Protection’ is more related to the ‘Drugs and Cosmetics Act’ of India rather than the ‘Patents Act 2005′.

Thus, it is quite intriguing to make out why ‘Data Protection’, which will be governed by ‘Drugs and Cosmetics Act’, is featuring in the IPR Policy of the country.

I wrote on the draft National IPR Policy in my blog post of January 19, 2015, titled “New “National IPR Policy” of India – A Pharma Perspective”.

Conclusion:

After jettisoning the ‘Satwant Committee Report’ on ‘Data Protection’, the Government was in no mood, until recently, to discuss anything about DP and DE, despite intense pressure from the pharma MNC lobby in India. However, the issue first resurfaced during EU-FTA negotiation, when India rejected these provisions outright and unambiguously.

However, the ghost started haunting India, yet again, when the US Government started flexing its muscle on this issue, at the behest of the American pharma companies.

Although DP is a drug regulatory issue, curiously, it features in the draft National IPR Policy. Even there, the subject has taken an interesting turn, when in the first draft of ‘National IPR Policy’ of India, the six-member ‘Think Tank’ chaired by Justice (Retd.) Prabha Sridevan clearly recommended “Protection of undisclosed information not extending to data exclusivity.”

In my opinion this is indeed a very pragmatic recommendation. It deserves support from all concerned so that the profound intent continues to feature in the final IPR Policy of India, to protect public health interest of the nation.

Just like ‘Patent Linkage’, as I discussed in my last week’s article, finding a middle ground to put ‘Data Protection’ in place through administrative measures, without making any amendments either in the Drugs & Cosmetics Act or in the Patents Act of the country, seems to be desirable and very much possible, as well.

However, the very thought of considering ‘Data Exclusivity’ in India, in my view, should prompt a clear ‘No…No’ response from the present Government of India.

This is mainly because, besides all other reasons as mentioned above, even if the patent period for a molecule has expired or there is no patent on a product, DE will act independently to delay the generic entry until the period of ‘Data Exclusivity’ gets over.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

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