Doha Declaration gives WTO member-countries the right to grant compulsory licences (CL) and the right to decide on the reasons upon which such licences are to be granted. The declaration also states that the TRIPS Agreement should be interpreted and implemented by the member-countries in a manner to protect public health and to promote access to medicines for all.
“Safeguards provision” in India:
The Indian Patent Act 2005 bestows enough power to the Controller General of Patents, Trademarks and Designs of India to issue compulsory licenses (CL) under following different sections of the Act:
1. Section 84:
This section prevents the abuse of patent as a monopoly and states that at any time after the expiration of three years from the date of grant of a patent, any interested person may make an application to the Indian Patent Office (IPO) for grant of compulsory licence on any of the following grounds:
(a) That the reasonable requirements of the public with respect to the patented invention have not been satisfied, or
(b) That the patented invention is not available to the public at a reasonably affordable price, or
(c) That the patented invention is not worked in the territory of India
Section 6 of section 84 states that in considering the application filed under this section, the controller shall take into account the following:
(i) The nature of the invention, the time which has elapsed since the sealing of the patent and the measures already taken by the patent or licensee to make full use of the invention;
(ii) The ability of the applicant to work the invention to the public advantage;
(iii) The capacity of the applicant to undertake the risk in providing capital and working the invention, if the application is granted;
(iv) Whether the applicant has made efforts to obtain a license from the patentee on reasonable terms and conditions and such efforts have not been successful within a reasonable period as the Controller may deem fit:
Provided that this clause shall not be applicable in case of national emergencies or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in case of public non-commercial use or on establishment of a ground of anti-competitive practices adopted by the patentee.
Terms and conditions of CL will be determined by the Controller under section 90.
2. Sections 92 (1) and 92 (3):
These sections enable the Central Government to deal with circumstances of national emergency or circumstance of extreme urgency or in case of public non-commercial use by issuing CL.
3. Section 92 A:
This part enables grant of CL for export of patented pharmaceutical products in certain exceptional circumstances to any country having insufficient or no manufacturing capacity for the concerned product to address public health problems.
Some loose knots:
Some believe that there are still some loose knots in the CL provisions in India, which need to be tightened, immediately.
Granting CL for a Biopharmaceutical product could be an issue:
It will not be very easy to grant CL for a biopharmaceutical product as the conditions in which biopharmaceuticals are produced largely define the final product and its manufacturing process defines the product quality. Any alteration to the manufacturing process may result in a completely different product.
Therefore following are the main issues, which need to be urgently addressed:
• Small changes in the manufacture of biopharmaceutical and biosimilar medicinal products can dramatically affect the safety and efficacy of the therapeutic molecule.
• The very nature of a biologic means that it is practically impossible for two different manufacturers to manufacture two identical biopharmaceuticals if identical host expression systems, processes and equivalent technologies are not used. This has to be demonstrated in an extensive comparability program. Therefore a generic biopharmaceutical cannot possibly exist.
• Substitution issues:
By contrasts with the situation applicable for generic chemical entities, biosimilar medicines can be “similar” but not “identical” to the innovator reference products. The “similar, but not identical” nature of biosimilar medicines means that substitution of the innovator product with a biosimilar product could have clinical consequences as patients could respond differently to the two products. To guarantee the efficacy and safety of biosimilar products, these products should only be approved following the submission of appropriate data generated with the biosimilar drug.
• Currently there are no published clear Indian guidelines for the approval of biosimilar drugs which will ensure the approval of efficacious and safe biosimilar drugs.
Some apprehensions on CL in India need to be addressed:
Some apprehensions have been expressed on possible misuse of CL and representations made to the government to address the following issues urgently. Tarceva and Stutent cases involving Nepal will probably justify such apprehensions:
o As the entire concept is based on “Working of Patents” in India, the term “Working of Patents” needs to be defined explicitly.
o Issuance of CL to be restricted to national emergency, extreme urgency and public non-commercial use
o Provisions in (Sec. 84 ) needs to be suitably amended that provide grounds for triggering CL by competitors for commercial benefits.
o Safeguards enshrined in the Aug 30 decision (Motta-Menon text) is to be provided for exports under Section 92A of the Indian Patents Act 2005, corresponding to Para 6 of the declaration on the TRIPS Agreement
Is paying royalty to patent holder an acceptable solution to this issue?
Many feel that this question totally ignores the right of an innovator to protect his/her innovation, which is the outcome of a painstaking, long, costly and risky R&D process. Such protection is granted to an innovator against disclosure of the data generated for the innovation to the patent office for public knowledge at large through grant of a patent for a specific time period. During this period the innovator is the exclusive owner of the innovation. The provision of CL can be invoked during this period, as stated above, for some very specific and extra-ordinary situation.
Such extra-ordinary situation, as and when will arise be addressed by the government based purely on the merits of the cases. Carte blanche permission by any authority allowing use of an innovator’s product during its patent life against a royalty payment, without innovators wish, is believed to be against the letter and spirit of Indian Patents Act 2005.
In Indian Patents Act 2005, the provisions of CL should maintain a fine balance between the critical need of innovation by the pharmaceutical companies and its reach to the users to meet their unmet needs. For a country like India, CL is probably the most appropriate safeguard against potential abuse of monopoly by the patentees in case of national emergencies and to address critical public health issues.
By Tapan 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.