EU-FTA, TRIPS-Plus provisions, Data Exclusivity, Public Interest and India

Business Standard in its January 27, 2011 edition reported, “Data Exclusivity still key hurdle to India-EU FTA”
Before deliberating on this important issue of “Free Trade Agreement (FTA)”, let me touch upon very briefly, for the benefit of all concerned, the pros and cons of the FTAs.
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs):
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), as we know, are treaties signed between the governments of two or more countries, where the countries agree to partially or completely lift the import tariffs, taxes, quotas, special fees, other trade barriers and regulatory issues to allow increased business, benefitting each country.
The Pros and Cons:
Consumers of each country are the key beneficiaries of FTAs with increased supply of various products of wider choices at lesser prices with consequent increase in market competition and market penetration.
The cons of the FTAs are apprehensions that arising out of fierce competition and increasing supply of imported products at lesser prices, the demand for domestic goods decline, leaving an adverse impact on the domestic business performance with consequent job losses, especially, in the manufacturing sector. In addition, because of lower import tariff, revenue collection of the government may also get adversely affected.
The scenario is no different for the pharmaceutical sector of the country.
A recent example:
The most recent example is the FTA between India and Japan. This will include both trade and investments, increasing the bilateral trade and commerce between the two countries to around US$ 11 billion. With this Agreement, Indian pharmaceutical products will be able to get access to the highly regulated and the second largest pharmaceutical market of the world.
The key issues with EU FTA:
1. It wants to include IPR issues like Regulatory Data Protection (RDP) or Data Exclusivity (DE) 2. RDP is a TRIPS-plus provision and its inclusion will delay the launch of generics 3. Delayed launch of generics would adversely impact the ‘public interest’.
A paradigm shift has taken place in India:
As we know, January 1, 1995 ushered in a new era, when the agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), became effective for its member countries. This Agreement significantly changed the international Intellectual Property (IP) regime with the introduction of the principle of minimum intellectual property standards.
This would, therefore, mean that any IP related agreement that will be negotiated subsequent to TRIPS between WTO members can only create higher than the specified minimum standards.
What is ‘TRIPS Plus’?
The ‘TRIPS-plus’ concept usually would encompass all those activities, which are aimed at increasing the level of IP protection for the right holders beyond what is stipulated in the TRIPS Agreement.
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 interest’.
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 Compulsory    Licenses (CL) – Delaying the entry of generics
Is section 39.3 an example of ‘TRIPS Plus’ provision?
The raging debate around Regulatory Data Protection (Data Exclusivity) as indicated under Article 39.3 of TRIPS is perhaps unique in terms of apprehension of the generic pharmaceutical industry on its possible adverse impact on their business and very recently of the Government of India because of the share of voice of the pressure groups following the EU-FTA.
Be that as it may, the moot question is, even if these provisions are ‘TRIPS Plus’, are these good for India?

Key arguments in favor of RDP in India:
1. It will not extend Patent life and promote evergreening:
However, there is hardly any evidence that RDP does not get over well before the patent expires. Thus RDP does extend the patent life of a product and hence is not ‘Evergreening’.
2. It will not delay the launch of generics because of safeguards provided in the Indian Patent Act, just like in the USA:
A robust ‘Data Exclusivity (DE)’ regime is effective in the USA since over decades. Despite DE, the world witnesses quickest launch of generic products in that country without any delay whatsoever. This has been possible in the USA, because of existence of the‘Bolar Provision’, which allows the generic players to prepare themselves and comply with all regulatory requirements, using the innovators data wherever required and keep the generic product ready for launch immediately after the patent of the innovator product expires in the country.
I reckon similar ‘Bolar like provision exists in the section 107A of the Indian Patent Act. This particular section allows, in a similar way that generic entry is not delayed in India after patent expiry of the respective innovator products.
Though the generic players of India, by and large, are up in arms against RDP (protection against disclosure and unfair commercial use of the test data) in India, highest number of ANDAs are being filed by the Indian companies, just next to the USA, despite a stringent DE provisions being in force there.
Moreover, inspite of very stringent IPR regulations, Generic prescriptions are quite popular in the USA. Around 62% of the total prescriptions in that country are for generic pharmaceuticals.
Thus the key apprehension that the RDP provision in the EU-FTA will delay the launch of generic  pharmaceutical products in India and will go against ‘Public Interest’ seems to be unfounded to me.
Government report indicates RDP is good for India:
The Government of India appointed ‘Satwant Reddy Committee’ report (2007) also categorically recommended that RDP is good for the country and should be introduced in a calibrated way.The committee examined two industries:
- Pharmaceuticals – Agrochemicals
Meanwhile, a 3 year RDP for Agrochemicals has been accepted by the Government of India, vindicating the fact that even if section 39.3 is considered as ‘TRIPS Plus’, RDP, as such, is good for the country.
Thus the question whether Section 39.3 is ‘TRIPS Plus’ or not, does not appear to be relevant while discussing EU-FTA, after following the above sequence of events in India.
Conclusion:
The issue of RDP appears to me more a regulatory than an IPR related subject in EU-FTA negotiation process and should be treated as such. It means RDP is more related to the ‘Drugs and Cosmetics Act’ of India rather than the ‘Patent Act 2005′. The media hype that an IPR issue in the form of RDP is being taken up in the EU-FTA negotiation also seems to be misplaced.
Let me hasten to add that I do not hold any brief directly or indirectly for or against the EU-FTA. Neither do I wish to make any general comment on the EU-FTA as such, because the agreement will deal with various other important issues of our nation’s interest involving intensive negotiations between the sovereign countries, at the government level.
However, even without going into the merits or demerits of the EU-FTA, it appears to me that the arguments put forth by a group of people against RDP related to the EU-FTA are indeed not robust enough and possibly have been prompted more by the vested interest groups rather than the ‘Public Interest’.

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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