What President Obama And Prime Minister Modi Discussed On IPR And Healthcare In India

During the recent visit of the US President Barack Obama to India from January 25-27, 2015, both the domestic and international media was abuzz with the speculation, whether or not India would concede some ground to America on the prevailing, generally considered, well balanced patent regime in India.

Many expected that the American delegation would succeed in getting some specific assurances from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to follow the line of the US style Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in India, which would help the American pharma companies to maximize their financial returns in the country.

The assurances from India were expected mainly in areas involving grant of patents even to those pharma products, that do not quality for the same under section 3(d) of the Indian Patents Act 2005, dilution of provisions for Compulsory License (CL) and creation of a new provision for Data Exclusivity in the country, besides a few others.

As everyone noticed, just before the US President’s visit, interested groups both in India and also from abroad intensified lobbying and released op-eds to create pressure on the Indian negotiators, in general, and the Prime Minister Modi in particular.

Terming the Indian Patents Act weak, the lobby groups turned the Indian IPR regime on its head. Playing the role of India’s benefactor, they re-packaged their shrill collective voice into pontificating words while giving interviews to the Indian media by saying: “A strong IPR regime could allow the country (India) to make a major contribution to tackling health challenges, both domestically and around the world.”

Additional US interest in Indian IP regime from TPP perspective:

Exemplary demonstration of India’s resistance to intense external pressure, time and again, for dilution of the IP regime in the country, seems to have become a model to follow for the emerging economies of the world, in general. This trend now gets reflected even among some of the members of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a proposed regional regulatory and investment treaty.

According to reports, TPP members, such as, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are negotiating hard to get incorporated somewhat similar to Indian IP rules in the TPP agreement. Besides America, other members of the TPP are Australia, Japan and New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru.

TPP negotiations are generally expected to follow the overall framework of American laws. However, according to media reports, based on the leaked draft of the TPP, the data exclusivity period for biologic medicines has already been negotiated down to 7 years, from 12 years under the US Affordable Care Act.

However, on January 27, 2015, US Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee reportedly said that he would oppose Senate approval of the TPP, if it does not provide 12 years of patent protection for biologics.

The same day, at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, US Trade Representative Mike Froman reportedly reiterated, “The US is insisting on 12 years of IP protections, even though the Obama administration’s budget calls for 7-year exclusivity on biologic meds.”

It is also worth noting that Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz in an op-ed titled, “Don’t Trade Away Our Health”, published in The New York Times of January 30, 2015 commented as follows:

“TPP could block cheaper generic drugs from the market. Big Pharma’s profits would rise, at the expense of the health of patients and the budgets of consumers and governments.”

Clicking on this short video clip you will be able watch another similar viewpoint on TPP, its general perspective and what it encompasses.

Thus, the closely guarded ‘turf war’ on TPP is now heating up, making negotiations increasingly tougher to arrive at a consensus on the IP rules that would be applicable to pharmaceutical products in this trade initiative. Consequently, the evolving scenario has prompted the interested groups to keenly follow, with hopes, the outcome of Presidents Obama’s recent visit to India, especially in the pharma IP areas. This is because, many emerging economies of the world are now appreciative of the prevailing well-balanced patent regime in India.

After the 12-nation TPP agreement comes into force, probably following the lines of the US IP laws, it is quite possible that India may sometime in future would prefer to be a part of this agreement for greater trade facilitation, as the country comes closer to America…Who knows?

However, in that case the bottomline is, India would have to amend relevant provisions of its Patents Act in conformance with the requirements of mainly the US pharmaceutical companies and the IP laws prevailing in America, as this will be necessary to become a new member of this treaty.

Discussion in the summit meeting:

According to the Joint Statement on the summit meeting released by the White House, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi discussed the following subjects related to IPR and Healthcare in India, as detailed below:

  • Reaffirmed the importance of providing transparent and predictable policy environments for fostering innovation.  Both countries reiterated their interest in sharing information and best practices on IPR issues, and reaffirmed their commitment to stakeholders’ consultations on policy matters concerning intellectual property protection.
  • Reaffirmed their commitment to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) and announced specific actions at home and abroad to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including a CDC-Ministry of Health Ebola and GHSA preparedness training, expansion of the India Epidemic Intelligence Service, and development of a roadmap to achieve the objectives of the GHSA within three years.
  • Committed to multi-sectoral actions countering the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and cooperation in training of health workers in preparedness for infectious disease threats. The Leaders agreed to focus science and technology partnerships on countering antibiotic resistant bacteria and promoting the availability, efficacy and quality of therapeutics.
  • Welcomed further progress in promoting bilateral cooperation on cancer research, prevention, control, and management and agreed to continue to strengthen the engagement between the CDC and India’s National Centre for Disease Control.
  • Welcomed the upcoming completion of an Environmental Health, Occupational Health and Injury Prevention and Control MoU between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indian Council for Medical Research to further collaborative efforts to improve the health and welfare of both countries’ citizens.
  • Agreed to expand the India-U.S. Health Initiative into a Healthcare Dialogue with relevant stakeholders to further strengthen bilateral collaboration in health sectors including through capacity building initiatives and by exploring new areas, including affordable healthcare, cost saving mechanisms, distribution barriers, patent quality, health services information technology, and complementary and traditional medicine.
  • Pledged to encourage dialogue between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Indian counterparts on traditional medicine.
  • Pledged to strengthen collaboration, dialogue, and cooperation between the regulatory authorities of the two countries to ensure safety, efficacy, and quality of pharmaceuticals, including generic medicines.
  • Agreed to accelerate joint leadership of the global Call to Action to end preventable deaths among mothers and children through a third meeting of the 24 participating countries in India in June 2015.  As host, India will showcase the power of new partnerships, innovations and systems to more effectively deliver life-saving interventions.
  • Also lauded the highly successful collaboration on a locally produced vaccine against rotavirus, which will save the lives of an estimated 80,000 children each year in India alone, and pledged to strengthen the cooperation in health research and capacity building through a new phase of the India-U.S. Vaccine Action Program.

As stated earlier, during this summit meeting, US lobbyists were reportedly nurturing a hope that Prime Minister Modi would eventually agree, at least in principle, to jettison section 3(d) on the patentability criteria enshrined in the Indian Patents Act 2005 and significantly water down the country’s Compulsory License (CL) provisions. This expectation increased, when the US President made the investment promise of U$4 billion in India.

That said, from the above points of discussion in the joint statement, it appears that no breakthrough on the part of the US was achieved especially in the IPR space, during the summit.

However, in other areas of bilateral healthcare co-operation, such as, science and technology partnerships in countering antibiotic resistant bacteria; cancer research and traditional medicines; the reaffirmations made by the two leaders are encouraging.

US pressure on IP to continue:

Going by India’s reaffirmation during the summit meeting of its commitment to consultations with America on policy matters related to IPR protection and US Trade Representative Mike Froman’s reported affirmation of the following to the US lawmakers during a Congressional hearing held on January 27, 2015, it is construed by the IP activists that the kettle has possibly started boiling:

- “We have been concerned about the deterioration of the innovation environment in India, and we have engaged with the new government since they came into office in May of last year about our concerns,”

- “We held the first Trade Policy Forum in four years in November. I just returned from India yesterday as a matter of fact … and in all of these areas, we have laid out a work program with the government of India to address these and other outstanding issues.”

- “We are in the process of providing comments on that draft policy proposal on IPR, and we are committed to continuing to engage with them to underscore areas of work that needs to be done in copyright, in trade secrets as well as in the area of patents,”

- “We’ve got a good dialogue going now with the new government on this issue, and we’re committed to working to achieve concrete progress in this area,”

Media reports also indicate that US pressure on IPR would continue, as they highlight:

“Threatened by free trade of high-quality and affordable medicines, US-based pharmaceutical companies and politicians friendly with the industry are using prominently placed op-eds, large advertisements on Washington, D.C. buses, and letters to President Obama to spread false information -claiming India’s rules are not legal or discourage innovation. The companies have been threatening to withhold investment if India does not adopt weaker patent laws that would extend pharmaceutical monopolies and stymie the country’s generic industry.”

I discussed some of these issues in my blog post of January 19, 2015, titled “New National IPR Policy of India – A Pharma Perspective”.

Conclusion:

Irrespective of whatever the US-India Joint Statement says on IPR, some experts do apprehend that Indian Government may now wilt under continuous intense pressure from the American Government. This is mainly because, India’s Commerce and Industry’s Minister has reportedly sought America’s inputs in the finalization process of the new National IPR policy of the country.

On this score, let me hasten to add that it may not be prudent to read too much into it, as seeking stakeholders’ comments on such matter is a practice that India has been following since long on various issues and policies.

However, at the same time, other groups of experts nurture a quite different viewpoint. They are confident that the nationalist Modi Government, under no circumstances would concede its long nurtured strategic ground on IPR to the US power play.

Emerging countries across the globe are keenly watching this intense game of  ‘Power Chess’, as they plan to emulate India in many of the pharmaceutical IP areas to uphold the public health interest, providing affordable healthcare to all.

These are still early days. Thus, in my view, on January 25, 2015, what President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed on the IPR regime in India may not be as important as what they would eventually decide to agree, disagree or agree to disagree in this area, moving on from here.

Only time would prove…not just who is right, that is pretty obvious to many, but who wilts at the end of the day…and more importantly, why?

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.

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