Before enactment of the Indian Patents Act (amended) 2005, it was widely reported that to protect ‘Public Health Interest’, the Parliament of India has ensured inclusion of a number of ‘safeguards’ including checks on ‘ever-greening’ of pharmaceutical patents and broader provisions for the grant of ‘Compulsory License’ in India.
Such provisions in the Patents Act of any country were almost non-existent at that time and eventually got translated into an eye of a storm spreading across the continents.
Most probably, none could fathom at that juncture, the magnitude of profound impact of the steps taken by the Indian Parliament on the global pharmaceutical product patent regime over a period of time, slowly but steadily. On the contrary, many expected that because of intense global pressure, at least, some of these ‘safeguards’ will subsequently be amended in favor of the innovators.
Instead and surprisingly, despite such intense pressure, especially from the U.S. and Europe, some countries gradually started following similar direction as India did in 2005.
Support of the Experts Group:
Similarly, support of the global expert groups on the above ‘safeguard’ provisions of the Indian Patent Act 2005 has now started surfacing.
This month, September 10, 2012 edition of ‘The Lancet’ featured an article titled, “India’s patent laws under pressure.” Supporting the above safeguard provisions the authors commented as follows:
“The TRIPS Agreement does not limit the grounds on which compulsory licenses can be granted, and does not prevent patent applicants from having to demonstrate enhanced efficacy for their allegedly new and useful inventions. There are many problems facing access to and rational use of medicines in India but the provisions within the country’s patent laws, if more extensively and properly applied, should help rather than hinder such access. India’s laws and experiences could provide a useful example for low-income and middle-income countries worldwide.
Interestingly, The Times of India dated September 14, 2012 in its editorial commented that
“Instead of being browbeaten by foreign multinationals and pressure from the US government, Indian drug policies should be designed to nudge them along this path, while protecting patients and the generic-drug industry. Indian pharma, like Chinese manufacturing, is a potent global force. In the 21st century we ought to move beyond rather than strengthen a system where brown and black people are denied access to life saving drugs.”
Even more recently on September 15, 2012, the business daily of India, The Hindu Business Line reported that dismissing the stay petition of Bayer on the Compulsory License (CL) granted for its Sorafenib Tosylate to Natco, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) comprising its Chairman, Justice Prabha Sridevan, and member D. P. S. Parmar, in the order passed on September 14, 2012 said that, “if stay is granted, it will jeopardize the interest of public who are in the need of the drug. The appellant has not made out any case for granting a stay.”
On the price of Bayer’s Nexavar, Justice Prabha Sridevan further stated that “Selling at Rs 2.80 lakh (US$ 5,100 approx.) can by no stretch of imagination satisfy the requirement of the public.”
Capturing an emerging trend with some examples:
This trend for all practical purpose started with India and may be captured as follows:
Amendment of the India Patents Act in January, 2005, as mentioned above, may in all practical purpose be construed as the beginning of the changing process.
For a long time Philippines remained a market of the highest price medicines as compared to most other Asian countries. However, effective July 4, 2008, the country enacted a law known as “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act” reportedly to protect public health interest. The law:
- Directed amendment of the Patent Act to limit the monopoly of the patent owners by expanding the scope for non-patentable inventions and redefining inventive step provision, similar to section 3(d) of Indian Patents Act 2005
- Allowed parallel importation of drugs already released in the international market as limitation to patent rights
- Provided for the use, by the government or its authorized third party, of the invention even without the agreement of the patent owner, in cases of national emergency, circumstances of extreme urgency, public non-commercial use or inadequately met demand
- Added ‘inadequately met demand’ as a ground for the grant of Compulsory License.
In 2009, ‘Taiwan’s Intellectual Property Office (TIPO)’ amended the Patent Act, again for public health interest, in the following areas, among others:
- Public health
- Compulsory license
The State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) has announced that the revised version of ‘Measures for the Compulsory Licensing for Patent Implementation’ has already been made operational in China effective May 1, 2012.
Interestingly, for “reasons of public health”, such medicines can also be exported under ‘Compulsory License’ to other countries, including those members of the World Trade Organization, where life-saving treatments are unaffordable.
In tandem, China, reportedly, is in the process of further strengthening its legal framework for local manufacturing of generic equivalents of patented drugs in the country.
Recently Argentina reportedly has come out with an amendment in their patent law for public health interest and has put in place new guidelines for patents, which besides others, include stringent provisions on patentability quite similar to the Section 3(d) of Indian Patents Act 2005.
Another signal from Asia though disease specific:
From May 29 – 31, 2012, over 90 representatives of government, academia, civil society and the United Nations assembled at the Regional Consultation and Planning Workshop in Bangkok to deliberate on “Use of TRIPS Flexibilities and Access to Affordable ARVs in Asia.”
The participants felt that in the days ahead there may be several public health related issues where the governments will require making exceptions in form of sovereign decisions to Intellectual Property (IP) Rights to save millions of precious lives.
A close watch for Public Health Interest in South Africa:
It has recently been reported that in South Africa, health activists together with other stakeholders of the local pharmaceutical industry are maintaining close vigil over the possibly amendment of the country’s patent laws by the government. They argue that no such decision to be taken, which can jeopardize access to cheaper generic medicines by the marginalized section of the society.
A review by UNDP:
In a paper titled, “Five years into the Product Patent Regime: India’s response”, published by United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the authors reiterated that in compliance with TRIPS agreement, India re-introduced the product patent protection in pharmaceuticals from January 1, 2005 by amending its Patent Laws. This development led to serious concerns at that time about the continuing ability of Indian generic companies to supply low cost and high quality medicines across the world. However, these concerns were taken seriously by the Indian Parliament, which utilized flexibilities available under TRIPS to help securing the availability, affordability and accessibility of such medicines in an uninterrupted manner.
The authors concluded by re-emphasizing their views that the Indian patent law contains robust built-in safeguards to eliminate a significant amount of ‘patent barriers’ to reasonably affordable low cost and high quality generic medicines, especially for the poor.
Opposite school of thoughts:
In a paper titled “Strengthening the Patent Regime: Benefits for Developing countries – A Survey”, published in the Journal of Intellectual Property Rights, the authors concluded that innovativeness of developing countries has now reached a stage where it is positively impacted by a robust Intellectual Property regime. The authors further stated that a robust patent ecosystem is among other important policy variables, which affect inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in the developing nations.
Another paper titled, “The Impact of the International Patent system in the Developing Countries”, published by the ‘World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’, though a bit dated of October 2003, states that a robust national patent system in developing countries contributes to their national socioeconomic development. The paper also highlights the experience of some developing nations, which found usefulness of a strong patent system in creation of wealth for the nation.
Currently, the issue of giving priority to the public health dimension of TRIPS has become a subject of a raging debate across the world.
As a result, most of the developing countries tend to feel the need of meeting only the minimum standard as specified in the TRIPS Agreement, despite strong opposition mainly from the developed countries of the world.
As indicated in the UNDP paper quoted above, many experts are increasingly highlighting that in order to protect public health interest across the world, the Doha declaration has been a watershed agreement within the global product patent regime. It effectively plugged many loop holes providing adequate flexibilities to the sovereign governments to ensure improved access to medicines, especially for the marginalized section of the society and still being able to encourage, protect and reward innovation in a true win-win situation for all.
The examples as cited above would possibly indicate that gradually many more countries will avail the flexibilities as provided in the Doha declaration, in the years ahead. Though these are very early days, the emerging sequence of global events does send a signal of metamorphosis in the global pharmaceutical product patent regime, paving the way of yet another paradigm shift in not too distant future.
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.