The Government of India accepts the Mashelkar Committee Report on ‘Incremental Innovation’ – what does it really mean?

‘The Mashelkar Committee’ re-submitted its report in March 2009, which primarily deals with incremental innovation related to Pharmaceuticals Research.The conclusion of the report on the incremental innovation reads as follows:“It would not be TRIPS compliant to limit granting of patents for pharmaceutical substance to New Chemical Entities only, since it prima facie amounts to a ‘statutory exclusion of a field of technology”.

Government accepts the Mashelkar committee Report:

It has now been reported that the Government has accepted this revised report, last week. With this the questions raised in the raging debate, whether incremental innovation is TRIPS compliant or not have possibly been answered well, beyond any further doubt.

The acceptance of this report by the Government further vindicates the point that all patentable innovations are not “eureka type” or “path breaking”. Innovation is rather a continuous process and more so in pharmaceuticals. Such type of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is quite similar to what one observes in the IT industry, where incremental innovation based on existing knowledge is more a norm than an exception. With incremental innovation not just efficacy of a product, but many other important unmet needs of the patients like safety, convenience and ease of administration of the drugs can be successfully met.

Thus innovations whether “path breaking” or “incremental” in nature, need to be encouraged and will deserve patent protection, if they are novel, have followed inventive steps and are industrially applicable or useful.

R&D based Indian Pharmaceutical industry gains considerably:

Many Indian Pharmaceutical Companies have already started working on the ‘incremental innovation’ model. Appropriate amendment of section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act 2005 will thus help all concerned – the patients, the industry and other stakeholders, as long as the prices of such medicines do not become unaffordable to majority of the population for various reasons. In any case, the Government has the law available within the patents Act to deal with any such situation, if arises at all.

Does section 3(d) warrant an amendment now?

Mashelkar committee categorically observes the following:

1. “It would not be TRIPS compliant to limit granting of patents for pharmaceutical substance to New Chemical Entities only, since it prima facie amounts to a statutory exclusion of a field of technology”, as stated above.

2. “Innovative incremental improvements based on existing knowledge and existing products is a ‘norm’ rather than an ‘exception’ in the process of innovation. Entirely new chemical structures with new mechanisms of action are a rarity. Therefore, ‘incremental innovations’ involving new forms, analogs, etc. but which have significantly better safety and efficacy standards, need to be encouraged.”

Thus, taking these recommendations together will the DIPP now finally conclude that Section 3(d) of the Patent Acts 2005 is not TRIPS compliant and recommend necessary amendments, accordingly to satisfy the needs of the Research based pharmaceutical industry?

Wait a minute – wait a minute:

The report also suggests:

1. “The Technical Experts Group (TEG) was not mandated to examine the TRIPS compatibility of Section 3(d ) of the Indian Patents Act or any other existing provision in the same Act. Therefore, the committee has not engaged itself with these issues.”

Will this comment make the Government conclude that Section 3(d) is TRIPS compliant, which includes ‘incremental innovation’ in general, however, with the rider of ‘properties related to significant improvement in efficacy’?

2. “Every effort must be made to provide drugs at affordable prices to the people of India”.

What will these efforts mean and how will these be implemented by the Government?

3. The TEG also recommends, “every effort must be made to prevent the practice of ‘ever greening’ often used by some of the pharma companies to unreasonably extend the life of the patent by making claims based sometimes on ‘trivial’ changes to the original patented product. The Indian patent office has the full authority under law and practice to determine what is patentable and what would constitute only a trivial change with no significant additional improvements or inventive steps involving benefits. Such authority should be used to prevent ‘evergreening’, rather than to introduce an arguable concept in the light of the foregoing discussion (paras 5.6 – 5.8 and paras 5.12 – 5.29) above of ‘statutory exclusion’ of incremental innovations from the scope of patentability.”

Will the Government (mis)interpret it as a vindication of Section 3(d), which does does not mean “statutory exclusion of incremental innovations from the scope of patentability” but has just made necessary provision within this section “to prevent the practice of ‘ever greening’ often used by some of the pharma companies to unreasonably extend the life of the patent by making claims based sometimes on ‘trivial’ changes to the original patented product”, as recommended by the Mashelkar Committee?

Conclusion:

In the re-submitted report of the Mashelkar committee, the TEG has made quite a few very profound comments, recommendations and suggestions, the implications of all of which are important to all the stakeholders in various different ways. Will the acceptance of this report, as a whole, by the Government and subsequent attempt by the authorities for its implementation both in the letter and spirit, will amount to “chasing a rainbow”, as it were?

Only time will us, how this “satisfy all” zig-saw-puzzle gets solved in future.

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.

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