“If the Obama administration succeeds in forcing India to strengthen its patent laws, the change would harm not only India and other developing countries; it would also enshrine a grossly corrupt and inefficient patent system in the US, in which companies increase their profits by driving out the competition – both at home and abroad. After all, generic drugs from India often provide the lowest-cost option in the US market once patent terms have expired.”
The above sharp, piercing and precise comment did not come from any health activist from India or elsewhere. It came from a team of highly credible academic experts working in the United States.
On February 10, 2015, Nobel Laureate in Economics – Joseph E. Stiglitz, who is also University Professor at Columbia University, former Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist of the World Bank, made this comment in an article published in ‘The World Opinion Page’ of ‘Project Syndicate’.
The article is co-authored by Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington DC and Arjun Jayadev, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
The authors arrived at the above conclusion based on some sound arguments. I am highlighting below some of those important ones (may not be in the same order):
- A patent that raises the price of a drug a hundred-fold has the same effect on the market as a 10,000 percent tariff.
- India’s Patents and Act and policies allow drugs to be sold at a small fraction of the monopoly prices commanded by patent holders. For example, the Hepatitis-C drug Sovaldi is sold for US$84,000 per treatment in the US; Indian manufacturers are able to sell the generic version profitably for less than US$1,000 per treatment.
- The threat of competition from Indian generics is partly responsible for major pharmaceutical companies’ decision to make some of their drugs available to the world’s poor at low prices. If the US compels India to tighten its patent rules substantially, so that they resemble US rules more closely, this outcome could be jeopardized.
- Multilateral approach, using the World Trade Organization (WTO), has proved less effective than the major multinational pharmaceutical companies hoped, so now they are attempting to achieve this goal through bilateral and regional agreements.
- In the view of America’s pharmaceutical industry, TRIPS did not go far enough. The Indian government’s desire to enhance its trade relations with the US thus provides the industry an ideal opportunity to pick up where TRIPS left off, by compelling India to make patents easier to obtain and to reduce the availability of low-cost generics.
- In September 2014, during his visit to the US, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to establish a working group to reevaluate the country’s patent policy. The US participants in that group will be led by the Office of the US Trade Representative, which serves the pharmaceutical companies’ interests, rather than, say, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, or the National Institutes of Health.
Any comparable voice in favor of changes in Indian Patents Act?
I don’t seem to have heard or read as strong arguments from as credible sources as Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, Dean Baker and Arjun Jayadev – the authors of the above article, in favor of the changes that American pharma companies want in the Indian Patents Act.
India at the center stage in IPR debate:
In the IPR debate, India is continuously being seen at the center stage for various reasons. The key one being the size, scale and economic efficiency that the home grown Indian pharma players have attained to cater to the needs of a large number of global population, including those residing in the United States and Europe, with a wide range of high quality generic drugs at affordable prices.
Fast evolving scenario:
It is now absolutely clear that being rattled by several refusals of India’s granting product patent to very similar molecules with minor tweaking under section (3d) of the country’s Patents Act, together with the nation’s uprightness in issuing Compulsory License (CL) for an enormously expensive cancer drug reducing its price by over 95 percent, United States now intends to directly intervene into India’s IPR policy environment.
As Nobel Laureate Stiglitz wrote, keen desire of the new dispensation of the Indian government to enhance its trade relations with the US has provided a golden opportunity to American pharma companies and their paid lobbyists to jump into the fray. They have started exerting enormous pressure on their own Government to compel India, at bilateral discussions, dilute its well-balanced Patents Act, ignoring India’s sovereign right to play by the flexibilities as provided by the WTO to protect public health interest in the country.
Both the domestic and international civil society organizations, including public health activists have expressed their serious concerns on this aggressive intent of US and India’s seemingly vulnerable position in this regard.
“The US is pushing India to play by its rules on Intellectual Property, which we know will lead to medicines being priced out of reach for millions of people,” commented the Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign, according to media reports.
Non-pharma American Organizations reacted differently:
14 American organizations in a letter to their President Barack Obama dated January 20, 2015, just prior to his visit to India, asked him “to support India’s central role in providing high-quality, low-cost generic medicines -which are essential for health care around the world. Recent U.S. policy stances have sought to topple parts of India’s intellectual property regime that protect public health in order to advance the interests of multinational pharmaceutical corporations in longer, stronger, and broader exclusive patent and related monopoly rights. India’s laws fully comply with the WTO TRIPS Agreement. Millions around the world depend on affordable generic medicines that would disappear if India acceded to these proposals, including many beneficiaries of US-funded programs. Instead of using your trip to promote the narrow interests of one segment of the pharmaceutical industry, we ask you to support the interests of people who need affordable medicines, whether they live in the U.S., in India, in Africa or elsewhere. Our world is safer and healthier because of India’s pro-health stance and we ask you to say so publicly while you are there.”
The letter re-emphasized at the end:
“From Detroit to New Delhi, health is increasingly interconnected. Our world is safer when it is healthier, and it is healthier because India’s laws appropriately balance health and IP.”
An interesting development:
It is interesting to note that after Winter Session of the Indian Parliament, the Modi Government announced a number of important policy changes at the end of December 2014.
Interestingly, one more critical policy – National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy has been left open for public comments and the final IPR Policy is yet to be announced despite enormous American pressure on India in this regard.
Without any specifics, the first draft of the National IPR policy just states that India will “review and update IP laws, where necessary, and remove anomalies and inconsistencies, if any.” It does emphasize though, the need of “more innovation” in the country, unequivocally and quite justifiably.
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”.
It is generally believed that the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy is undoubtedly a positive step to clarify the Government’s stand in maintaining a balanced IP regime in the country that would encourage innovation to add speed to the progress of the nation.
In just 10 years Indian IPR regime has, by and large, attracted enormous global attention mostly for balancing IP and public health interest, admirably. Experts like Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz sincerely hope that India will not change this course under pressure of any kind or form.
Be that as it may, several recent media reports also speculated, around the same time, that Government of India is probably considering putting in place ‘Data Exclusivity’ and ‘Patent Linkage’ through administrative measures, without making any amendments in the Patents Act of the country.
In my subsequent articles in this blog, I shall deliberate on these two contentious issues, keeping the evolving scenario in perspective.
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.