“Big Pharma’s Satanic Plot is Genocide”: South Africa Roars

In a recent interview, the Health Minister of South Africa (SA) Mr. Aaron Motsoaledi reportedly made the above comment.

The background:

As reported in the interview and also indicated in an article in this blog, the Trade and Industry Department of SA, on September 4, 2013, published a long-awaited draft national policy on Intellectual Property (IP) in the Government Gazette. In that draft policy, the department recommended, besides others, the following:

  • Provision should be made for the Compulsory Licensing (CL) of crucial drugs.
  • Provision should be made for the parallel importation of drugs.
  • Grant of drug patents should ensure that the drug is new or innovative.
  • “Patent flexibility” for medicine should be made a matter of law.
  • The holders of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), such as drug companies, should be encouraged to protect their own rights rather than depending on state institutions, such as the police or customs.
  • SA should seek to influence the region, and the world, to move towards its vision of Intellectual Property (IP) protection.

The draft does not have the status of a policy, as yet, and was open for public comment.

Pharma MNC moved surreptitiously: 

Pharma MNCs having local operations being flabbergasted by this development, almost immediately, started working on a plan to change the direction of the policy radically, the report states. Instead of optimal protection for drug patents, they planned to seek stronger protection. 

Having finalized the counter strategy this month, the local MNC pharma association, ‘Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa)’, reportedly selected a Washington DC-based lobbying firm ‘Public Affairs Engagement (PAE)’, headed by a former US ambassador – Mr. James Glassman, to lead the charge against the policy. PAE, by now, has put forward a proposal on how it would effect radical changes to the policy, the report stated.

The same article mentions, PAE intends to launch a persuasive campaign throughout Africa and in Europe with an aim to convince the South African Government to further strengthen, rather than weaken, patent protection for drugs. The grand plan of PAE contains elements, which could seriously bother many right thinking individuals, as it includes:

  • Setting up a “coalition” with an innocuous name such as “Forward South Africa (FSA)”, which will be directed from Washington DC, while appearing to be locally run in SA.
  • Encouraging other African countries, especially Rwanda and Tanzania, to help convincing SA that it could lose its leadership role in the continent, if it decides to push ahead with the draft policy.
  • Distracting NGOs from their own lobbying by changing the nature of the debate.
  • Commissioning seemingly “independent” research and opinion pieces for broad public dissemination – but vetting all such material before publication to ensure those fit the messages. 

Creation of surrogate public faces:

It is worth noting from the report that the so called coalition ‘FSA’, the proposed public face of the campaign, would be “led by a visible South African, most likely a respected former government official, business leader or academic”. However, at the same time, it would be “directed by staff from PAE and its South African partner”.

Majority funding by an American association in SA:

The report also highlights, nothing in the document suggests that the funding for FSA – estimated at  mind-boggling numbers of U$ 100,000 from IPASA and another US$ 450,000 from an ‘American Association’ of pharmaceutical companies – would be disclosed.

The report concluded by quoting the American lobbyists hired to launch a counter campaign, which states, “Without a vigorous campaign, opponents of strong IP will prevail, not just in South Africa, but eventually in much of the rest of the developing world.”

This is not a solitary example:

The Guardian reported another such incident in July 2013. The article stated that the global pharmaceutical industry has “mobilized” an army of patient groups to lobby against the plan of European Medicines Agency (EMA) to force pharma companies to publish all Clinical Trial (CT) results in a public database for patients’ interest.

While some pharma players agreed to share the CT data as required, important global industry associations strongly resisted to this plan. The report indicated that a leaked letter from two large pharma trade associations, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) of the United States and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), have drawn out a strategy to combat this move.

The strategy reportedly demonstrates, as the article highlights, how have the Big Pharma associations drawn the patient groups, many of which receive funding from drugs companies, into this battle.


As I had articulated several times in the past, newer innovative drugs are extremely important in the fight against diseases and this flow must continue, actively supported by a well-balanced Patents Act of the country, as India has already implemented.

That said, the moot question continues to remain, who are these innovations and innovative medicines for? Are these to save precious lives of only a small minority of affluent nations, their populations and other wealthy people elsewhere, depriving a vast majority, across the world, of the fruits of innovation? Would repeated harping on the much hyped phrase, “meeting unmet needs of patients”, negate such gross indifference?

If that is the case, it becomes the responsibility of a Government, keeping the civil society on board, to formulate effective remedial legal measures. The draft national policy on ‘Intellectual Property’ of SA is one such initiative that needs to be applauded.

Surreptitious reported attempts of pharma MNCs, repeatedly, through their respective associations, backed by bagful of ‘resources’ of all kinds to thwart such patient centric moves of Governments, should be deplored with contempt that they deserve.

As Indian scenario is no different, it would perhaps be good to fathom, whether similar surreptitious and high resource-intensives moves are in progress in this country as well.

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.


George Washington University Law School’s “The India Project” – Arguments and Counter Arguments

Recently we witnessed yet another huge controversy on the ‘IP Summit’ organized by the George Washington University Law School (GWULS), USA. It was alleged that this summit supported by law firms, some pharmaceutical companies and others, was intended to influence the participating sitting judges on the pharmaceutical patent related cases currently being fought in various courts in India.

The Arguments:

However, the GWULS reiterated that this summit is intended to help India to build capacity in the IP law of the country. GWULS states the following in its magazine of winter 2009:

“From New Delhi to Bangalore, GW Law is building bridges of understanding between the United States and Indian legal communities through its fast-growing India Project, a collaborative enterprise fostering broad-based relationships and heightened international dialogue on issues of mutual concern”.

During their recent visit to India, in an announcement to the media GWULS explained the following:

“We have contributed to education by heightening the dialogue and understanding between India and the U.S. on IP law. We have done so in a collaborative way, as we have much to learn from our Indian counterparts. For example, the new Indian patent law, enacted in 2005, involves a range of issues that require clarification, and the project has resulted in a two-way discussion of real importance to the future of IP protection in India and across the world. Is the new law in compliance with Indian constitutional standards? How does it compare with U.S. law in addressing issues that arise during the processing of a patent application? (With regard to this question we recently held educational sessions with patent examiners at various Indian patent offices). Is it consistent with international standards? These are just some of the issues that attract the attention of people associated with GW’s India Project.”

The Counter Arguments:

The other group strongly counter argues highlighting that Indian judiciary and lawmakers have a long history of dealing with the patent laws since 1911. Although in between from 1970 to 2004, the situation slightly changed with the abolition of ‘Pharmaceutical Product Patent’, the re-introduction of the same effective January 1, 2005, does not call for an ‘un-called for’ indirect intervention in the judicial process of the country by law schools located beyond the shores of India.

This group feels that GWULS indirectly casts aspersions on the legal standard of the country and the competence of Indian judiciary, which needs to be protested, unequivocally. Moreover, the group argues, “even if IP awareness had to be taken to the people once again after the 2005 amendment, why did GWULS mount such a major campaign here?”

So far the Patent Law is concerned; this group accepts that our Patent Attorneys and particularly those lawyers who will argue the cases in front of the judges must possess impeccable knowledge in the nuances of patent law with all its nitty- gritty. Thus lawyers rather than judges should regularly update their knowledge on the details of patent related issues.

Laws are by and large country specific, with an exception probably of international law. After hearing the arguments of respective lawyers, this group feels that the judge will interpret the law of the land and give his/her judgment accordingly, as happens in any other comparable sphere of law. Just as for laws related to ‘terrorist’ act, India will not require its judges to be trained by other countries, this group reiterates, the same argument holds good for patent law, as well.

The Times of India (March 29, 2010), a leading daily of the country, reported the following in a news item titled, “’Vested interests behind discussion on patents”:

“Several civil society groups have come together to question the commerce and industry ministry’s alleged complicity in allowing meetings and interactions undermining India’s legal position on intellectual property (IP). These interactions are being organized annually with Indian judges and policy makers by the George Washington University Law School (GW Law), under its India Project, with funding from multinational pharmaceutical companies, industry associations and corporate law firms”.


Be that as it may, the arguments from either side do not seem to be unbiased without any vested interests and are not convincing enough. In a globalized economy, from such comments it appears that the one group is feeling that Indian legal system is inefficient, if not incompetent, to deal with its patent related cases involving global pharmaceutical companies. On the other side, the local voice seems to be afraid of a ‘foreign hand’ intruding into the judicial space of India, which in my view is stretching the imagination far too much.

Overall, Indian Judiciary has a long tradition of keeping the institution robust enough and free from any external influences, whatsoever, notwithstanding GWULS coming to India almost every year, since around 2005.

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.