‘Patent Linkage’: Can The Core Issue Be Resolved?

On February 10, 2015, a leading business daily of India, quoted the Commerce Secretary of India – Rajeev Kher, saying, “India needs to relook at its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy with a view to bring in a differentiated regime for sectors that have a greater manufacturing potential.”

In the present Government regime, it appears virtually impossible to make such important comments out of turn by a senior bureaucrat without the blessings of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). I hold this view, despite the fact that the Commerce Secretary reportedly added that his suggestion is “a highly controversial subject and if I discussed this in the government, I think I will be shot down in the very first instance”.

Be that as it may, as I indicated in my just previous article, several recent media reports also speculated, around the same time, that the Government of India is probably considering putting in place ‘Patent Linkages’ and ‘Data Exclusivity’ through administrative measures, without making any amendments in the Patents Act 2005 of the country.

As I had indicated in my blog post of January 19, 2015 titled, “New ”National IPR Policy” of India – A Pharma Perspective”, these speculations originated mainly from the following events:

  • During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States in September 2014, a high-level Indo-US working group on IP was constituted as a part of the Trade Policy Forum (TPF), which is the principal trade dialogue body between the two countries.
  • Almost immediately after the Prime Minister’s return to India, in October 2014, the Government formed a six-member ‘Think Tank’ to draft the ‘National IPR Policy’ and suggest ways and legal means to handle undue pressure exerted by other countries in IPR related areas. The notification mandated the ‘Think Tank’ to examine the current issues raised by the industry associations, including those that have appeared in the media and give suggestions to the ministry of Commerce and Industry as appropriate.

Speculations arising out of these two events were almost simultaneously fuelled by the following developments:

A. US Trade Representative Mike Froman’s reported affirmation of the following to the US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing held on January 27, 2015:

- “We have been concerned about the deterioration of the innovation environment in India, and we have engaged with the new government since they came into office in May of last year about our concerns.”

- “We held the first Trade Policy Forum in four years in November. I just returned from India yesterday as a matter of fact … and in all of these areas, we have laid out a work program with the government of India to address these and other outstanding issues.”

- “We are in the process of providing comments on that draft policy proposal on IPR, and we are committed to continuing to engage with them to underscore areas of work that needs to be done in copyright, in trade secrets as well as in the area of patents.”

- “We’ve got a good dialogue going now with the new government on this issue, and we’re committed to working to achieve concrete progress in this area.”

B. Union Minister of Commerce and Industry of India specifically seeking American Government’s inputs in the finalization process of the new National IPR policy of the country.

Keeping these in perspective, let me try to explore whether or not it would be fair for India deciding to put in place ‘Patent Linkages’ and ‘Data Exclusivity’ through administrative measures, without making any amendments in the Patents Act of the country.

In this article, I shall deliberate on my personal take on ‘Patent Linkage’ and in the next week’s article on ‘Data Exclusivity’.

Definition:

Patent linkage is broadly defined as the practice of linking market approval for generic medicines to the patent status of the originator reference product.

A brief background in India:

The ‘Patent Linkage’ saga has an interesting background in India. I would now try to capture the essence of it, as stated below.

About 7 years ago, probably prompted by intense lobbying by the Pharma MNCs, the then Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) reportedly informed the media, on April 28, 2008, the following:

“We (DCGI) are going to seek the list of the drugs from innovator companies that have received patent in India. Once we have the database of the drugs which have been granted patent, we will not give any marketing approval to their generic versions…The DCGI has issued internal guidelines to this effect and it will also co-ordinate with the health ministry to give a formal shape to the initiative. The government expects to finalize a proper system within the next 2-3 months.”

It was also reported in the same article that Patent attorney Pratibha Singh, who along with Arun Jaitley was representing Cipla in the Tarceva case against Roche said:

“The DCGI does not have the authority to reject marketing application of a generic drug on the grounds that an innovator company has received the patent for the same drug in the country.”

Immediately following the above reported announcement of the DCGI on ‘Patent Linkage’, another media report flashed that the domestic drug companies are strongly objecting to the DCGI’s plans to link marketing approval for a drug with its patent status in the country, citing requirement of additional resources for the same and concern that it could block access to affordable medicines by suppressing competitive forces.

Despite this objection of the domestic Indian pharma companies, a senior official in DCGI office reportedly reaffirmed the DCGI’s intent of establishing the linkage so that no slips happen in the future. The same media report quoted that Government official as saying:

“We will have to amend the rules in the Act. We have to put it before the Drugs Consultative Committee first and this could be around the end of this year.”

Current ‘administrative’ status in India:

Currently in India, there is no provision for ‘Patent Linkage’, either in the Statute or through any administrative measure.

After those potboiler reports, it is quite challenging to fathom, what exactly had happened for the reverse swing thereafter at the DCGI’s office. The bottom line is, the above initiative of the then DCGI for ‘Patent Linkage’ in India ultimately got killed in the corridors of power. Hence, there does not exist any direct or indirect measure for ‘Patent Linkage’ in India, as I write this article.

Current legal status:

In 2008 Bayer Corporation had filed a Writ Petition before the Delhi High Court against Union of India, the DCGI and Cipla seeking an order that the DCGI should consider the patent status of its drug, Sorefenib tosylate, and refuse marketing approval to any generic versions of this drug.

It is worth mentioning, Sorefenib tosylate is used to treat renal cancer and was being reportedly sold in India by Bayer at Rs. 2,85,000 for 120 tablets for a monthly course of treatment.

The appeal in the Delhi High Court was filed against a judgment delivered by Justice Ravindra Bhat on 18 August 2009, rejecting Bayer’s attempt to introduce the patent linkage system in India through a court direction. But, in a landmark judgment on February 9 2010, a division bench of the Delhi High Court dismissed the appeal of Bayer Corporation in this regard. Thereafter, Bayer Corporation moved Supreme Court against this Delhi High Court order.

However, in December 01, 2010, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court rejected the appeal filed by Bayer Corporation against the February 2010 decision of the Delhi High Court. The Apex Court of India ordered, since the Drugs Act does not confer power upon the DCGI to make rules regarding the ‘Patent Linkage’, any such attempt would constitute substantive ultra vires of the delegated power.

RTI helps to get the marketing approval status of drugs:

Currently relevant information on marketing approval application status of generic drugs are not available at the CDSCO website. Hence, some innovator companies have resorted to using Right To Information (RTI) Act to ferret out such details from the DCGI office and initiate appropriate legal measures for patent infringement, well before the generic version of the original drug comes to the market.

A middle ground:

In view of the above order of the Supreme Court, the government of India may try to seek a middle ground without amending any provision of the Patents Act, in any way.

Even avoiding the word ‘Patent Linkage’, the Ministry of Health can possibly help the pharma MNCs achieving similar goal, through administrative measures. It can instruct the DCGI to upload the ‘Marketing Approval’ applications status for various generic products in the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) website. If for any patented drugs, applications for marketing approval of generic equivalents are made, the available information would enable the patent holder taking appropriate legal recourse for patent infringement, much before the drug is marketed at a heavily discounted price.

It is quite possible that the interested constituents had put requests for such administrative measures even before the earlier Government. As no tangible action has been taken even thereafter, the erstwhile Government probably felt, if introduced, such a system would adversely impact quick and early availability of the generic drugs in the market place.

Conclusion: 

I wrote an article on similar issue in my blog post of August 24, 2009 titled, “Recent Bayer Case Judgment: Patent Linkage: Encouraging Innovation in India.”

Taking all these into consideration, in my view, it is quite possible for the present Indian Government to resolve the core issue related to ‘Patent Linkage’ through administrative measure, without amending any Acts or breaching any case laws of the land.

In the present IPR imbroglio, the above administrative measure could well be a win-win solution for all.

It would help facilitating early judicial intervention by the patent holder in case of prima facie patent infringements, enabling the Government to send a clear reiteration that the patents granted to pharmaceutical products will be appropriately enforced and protected in the country.

By: Tapan J. Ray

DisclaimerThe 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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