WTO gives In­dia a clean chit

Apex trade reg­u­la­tor finds noth­ing amiss in In­dia's in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty laws af­ter ex­haus­tive re­view

Down to Earth - - COLUMN - LATHA JISHNU

Iprop­erty rights (ipr) regime, NDIA'S IN­TEL­LEC­TUAL un­der con­stant at­tack from the US and multi­na­tional com­pa­nies (mncs) over the past few years, has been given a clean bill of health by the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion (wto). At a two-day trade pol­icy re­view con­ducted by the apex or­gan­i­sa­tion in early June, there was no crit­i­cism of a much con­tested sec­tion of the patent law nor was the coun­try pulled up for is­su­ing a com­pul­sory li­cence (CL) for a can­cer drug—another is­sue that has had the pharma giants froth­ing at the mouth.

Re­ports from Geneva said that In­dia’s poli­cies earned praise from many mem­ber-coun­tries, although some oth­ers sought fur­ther eas­ing of in­vest­ment rules. This col­umn, how­ever, is con­cerned not with the broad sweep of Delhi’s trade regime but with IPR poli­cies which have been un­fairly tar­geted by the US and its busi­ness lob­bies.

Ahead of the meet­ing, the wto Sec­re­tar­iat is­sued a com­pre­hen­sive re­port, run­ning into about 174 pages, chron­i­cling all ma­jor ini­tia­tives In­dia had taken over the past four years.The re­port also listed trade-re­strict­ing.

These re­views are an ex­er­cise in which the mea­sures taken by mem­ber-coun­tries on trade pro­mo­tion are pe­ri­od­i­cally ex­am­ined and eval­u­ated by other wto na­tions. The last re­view of In­dia’s poli­cies took place in Septem­ber 2011— it hap­pens ev­ery four years for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries— and the cur­rent re­view looked at de­vel­op­ments since then. This is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the in­tense lob­by­ing and fierce cam­paign against In­dia’s patent regime has es­ca­lated in the same pe­riod.

The wto re­port had noth­ing frac­tious to say about IPR con­cerns, although it ac­counted for a siz­able part of its com­pi­la­tion on In­dia. It did note, how­ever, that the Na­tional Man­u­fac­tur­ing Pol­icy, while defin­ing the func­tions of the Tech­nol­ogy Ac­qui­si­tion and De­vel­op­ment Fund, has stated that the Fund could ap­proach the gov­ern­ment for a CL for the tech­nol­ogy that is ei­ther not pro­vided by the patent-holder at rea­son­able rates or is not work­ing in In­dia to meet the do­mes­tic de­mand in a sat­is­fac­tory man­ner. CL has be­come a sore point with pharma giants, although rich na­tions of the in­dus­tri­alised world have used it much more than de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

In the case of In­dia, the is­sue has been blown out of pro­por­tion with busi­ness lob­bies claim­ing that the coun­try had is­sued sev­eral CLs to man­u­fac­ture patented drugs. It was sig­nif­i­cant, there­fore, that the wto re­view re­port laid such lies to rest by em­pha­sis­ing that “in March 2012, In­dia is­sued its first and only CL” on a can­cer medicine. This is not a small mat­ter since Amer­i­can busi­ness and trade lob­bies, through their Goebbel­sian pro­pa­ganda, have made the US Congress be­lieve that In­dia is a ha­bit­ual user of CLs to over­ride patents. On the other hand, “In­dia has not is­sued any other CL even though two more ap­pli­ca­tions for such li­cences have been re­ceived,” states the re­port un­equiv­o­cally.

As for the con­tro­ver­sial Sec­tion 3(d) of the Patent Act, wto points out that the Supreme Court of In­dia has said very clearly that it does not bar patent pro­tec­tion for all in­cre­men­tal in­ven­tions of chem­i­cal and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sub­stances.The wto re­port goes fur­ther to put the con­tro­versy at rest. “It would ap­pear that the re­cent rejection of one of the patent ap­pli­ca­tions filed in In­dia on a break­through in­no­va­tive prod­uct to treat Hep­ati­tis C was on the grounds that while the claims may be both novel and in­ven­tive, they do not prove sig­nif­i­cant en­hance­ment of ‘ther­a­peu­tic’ ef­fi­cacy and hence are not in line with Sec­tion 3(d).”

Will this stop US carp­ing about In­dia’s patent regime? Un­likely. At the re­view meet­ing, the US en­voy was de­mand­ing that it be al­lowed to have its say in a new IP pol­icy that In­dia is re­ported to be fi­nal­is­ing.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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