The revised draft of India’s IPR Policy penned by the Government constituted ‘Think-Tank’ in 2014, suggests enactment of new laws, such as for ‘Utility Models’ and Trade Secrets, to fill some gaps in the country’s IPR ecosystem .
However, media reports of May 21, 2015 indicate, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) is not in favor of changing the country’s ‘Patents Law’ framework to allow grant of utility patents, as suggested by the ‘Think-Tank’.
Though comments from the other Ministries and Departments on the revised draft IPR Policy is still awaited, DIPP reportedly feels, ‘Utility Models’ being less-stringent form of intellectual Property (IP) protection, could ultimately lead to ‘ever-greening’ of patents.
This development is indeed interesting because on May 13, 2011 the same DIPP uploaded in its website a Discussion Paper on “Utility Models”. Many believed at that time, it as a precursor of a new policy initiative of DIPP on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to encourage innovation in the country, without diluting the prevailing strict criteria for patentability. The above Discussion Paper highlighted, among others:
“…minor technical inventions which frugally use local resources in a sustainable manner need to be encouraged by providing a legal framework for their protection and commercial exploitation. Such useful, low cost and relatively simple innovations which create new mechanical devices or contribute to the optimal functioning of existing ones may have commercial value only for a limited time period, before they are replaced by other products or rendered redundant by change of technology.”
In that paper DIPP also highlighted that many countries of the world, for example; Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Korea and Netherlands still find the ‘Utility Model’ as an extensively used tool to foster innovation within the local industries.
We shall also touch upon this point below.
The Discussion Paper did trigger a healthy national debate on this subject at that time, though Government did not make known to the public the outcome of this public discourse.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) defines ‘Utility Model’ as follows:
“Utility Model is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which allows the right holder to prevent others from commercially using the protected invention, without his authorization, for a limited period of time. In its basic definition, which may vary from one country (where such protection is available) to another, a utility model is similar to a patent. In fact, utility models are sometimes referred to as petty patents or innovation patents.”
Or in other words “A utility model is similar to a patent in that it provides a monopoly right for an invention.”
However, utility models are much cheaper to obtain, the requirements for grant of a ‘Utility Model’ are usually less stringent and the term is shorter – mostly between 7 and 10 years, as against up to 20 years term of protection for a patent.
Major differences between Utility Models and Patents:
According to WIPO, the main differences between ‘Utility Models’ and patents can be summarized as follows:
- The requirements for acquiring a ‘Utility Model’ are less stringent than for patents. While the requirement of “novelty” is always to be met, that of “inventive step” or “non-obviousness” may be much lower or absent altogether. In practice, protection for ‘Utility Models’ is often sought for innovations of rather incremental in character, which may not meet the patentability criteria.
- The term of protection for ‘Utility Models’ is shorter than for patents and varies from country to country (usually between 7 and 10 years without the possibility of extension or renewal).
- In most countries where ‘Utility Model’ protection is available, patent offices do not examine applications as to substance prior to registration. This means that the registration process is often significantly simpler and faster, taking on an average about six months.
- ‘Utility Models’ are much cheaper to obtain and to maintain.
- In some countries, ‘Utility Model’ protection can only be obtained for certain fields of technology and only for products but not for processes.
Countries providing ‘Utility Model’ protection:
Many countries do not grant ‘Utility Models’. However, the major countries granting ‘Utility Models’, as stated above, include: Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
According to WIPO, currently the countries and regions that provide ‘Utility Models’ are as follows:
Albania, Angola, Argentina, ARIPO, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, OAPI, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Spain, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.
Interestingly, ‘Utility Models are not available in the United Kingdom or the United States.
A recent allegation of ‘Utility Model’ infringement against a global pharma:
Quite recently, in November 2014, Copenhagen headquartered Forward Pharma A/S reportedly filed a lawsuit against Biogen Idec GmbH, Biogen Idec Internaional GmbH and Biogen Idec Ltd. in the Regional Court in Dusseldorf, alleging infringement of its German ‘Utility Model’ DE 20 2005 022 112 due to Biogen Idec’s marketing of Tecfidera® in Germany.
Tecfidera® – a product containing dimethyl fumarate (DMF) as the active ingredient, is used for the treatment of Myasthenia Gravis (MS).
Forward Pharma asserted that its above ‘Utility Model’ precludes anyone from selling in Germany, without the Company’s consent, drugs with DMF as the sole active pharmaceutical ingredient for the treatment of MS at a daily dose of 480 mg.
With this lawsuit Forward Pharma did not seek to stop sales of Tecfidera® to MS patients, but rather sought damages for what the Company believes are Biogen Idec’s unlawful sales of Tecfidera® in Germany.
Although ‘Utility Models’ are registered without substantive examination, the Company reiterated its belief in the validity and enforceability of the said ‘Utility Model.’
Subsequently, on April 14, 2015 Forward Pharma A/S announced that an interference was declared by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) on April 13, 2015 between the Company’s patent application 11/576,871 (the “’871 patent application”) and Biogen’s issued patent 8,399,514 (the “’514 patent”).
The PTAB reportedly designated Forward Pharma A/S as the “Senior Party” in the interference based on the Company’s earlier patent application filing date.
Would ‘Utility Model’ be useful in pharma?
Utility Models (UM) are considered particularly suited for SMEs that make “minor” improvements to, and adaptations of, existing products. It is worth noting that UMs are primarily used for mechanical innovations.
However, in India, the ‘Utility Model’ concept in pharma would be directly conflicting with the intent and spirit of the section 3(d) of the Patents Act 2005 of the country, which clearly stipulates that mere discovery of a new form of a known substance which does not result in the enhancement of the known ‘clinical’ efficacy of that substance or the mere discovery of any new property or new use for a known substance or of the mere use of a known process, machine or apparatus unless such known process results in a new product or employs at least one new reactant, is not patentable.
Therefore, section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act 2005, is considered as one of the most important safeguards against “evergreening” of patents, usually done through alleged “molecular manipulation or tweaking”, that delays entry of affordable generic equivalents, adversely impacting the public health interest.
In that sense, enactment of a new law granting protection to pharma ‘Utility Models’ in India could seriously jeopardize both short and long term health interests of the patients, in general.
This is primarily because, being denied of a 20 year product patent under section 3(d), the same company would then be eligible to apply and may also probably get a monopoly status for that molecule, though for a shorter term with ‘Utility Models’.It would obviously happen at the cost of quicker entry of equivalent affordable generics.
Considering all these, and having witnessed a serious allegation of a ‘Utility Model’ (which goes through no more than a liberal regulatory scrutiny) infringement, against a major patented pharma product that passed through the acid test of stringent and cost intensive regulatory requirements, it appears that ‘Utility Models’ need to be excluded, especially for pharmaceuticals in India.
This is purely for the sake of patients’ interest, at least on the following two counts:
- All new/novel drugs, without any compromise whatsoever, should pass through the stringent acid test of the drug regulatory requirements for requisite efficacy, safety and quality standards.
- ‘Evergreening’ of patents, under any garb, delaying entry of affordable equivalent cheaper generics, should not be encouraged in the country.
Thus, in my view, Indian Government should continue to remain firm with its bold stance on the relevance of section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act. Any possibility of its dilution by a grant of market monopoly, though for a much shorter period, covering incremental innovations that do not conform to the country’s IP laws, must be openly discouraged with robust reasons.
In that sense, the flag raised by the DIPP on the intriguing recommendation of the IPR Policy ‘Think Tank’ for enacting new laws in India for ‘Utility Model’, appears to be pragmatic and far sighted, specifically in the context of pharmaceuticals.
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.