The central government has accepted the recommendations of an expert committee headed by former Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) chief R A Mashelkar on patent laws. The committee had concluded that limiting the grant of patents for pharmaceutical substances to new chemical entities will be a violation of the TRIPS agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In effect, the committee endorsed the current position taken by India, in allowing patenting of known medicines if they have substantial new therapeutic uses.
The Mashelkar committee was formed after the government got passed the Patent Bill in 2005. It was assigned to see if the demand for narrowing the patent laws would breach India’s obligations under the WTO agreement. Mashelkar had presented the committee report in 2007, only for it to be withdrawn due to complaints of “technical errors”. The revised copy, submitted to the government few months ago, was accepted recently.
The move has come as a setback to many civic groups who were hoping to see a a constriction of Indian patent laws. The domestic lobby groups were heartened after a committee of Parliamentarians recently recommended changes in the existing rules to limit patenting of medicines to just “new chemical entities”.
In a letter to commerce minister Anand Sharma, the National Working Group on Patent Laws asked for the “recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee to take precedence over those of the Mashelkar committee.” It wanted the Mashelkar committee recommendations to be disregarded and appropriate amendments introduced in the Patents Act, 1970.
The civil society groups are stepping up protest against the “alleged” move to link “counterfeit” issues with intellectual property protection. In an open letter to Confederation of Indian Industry today, 21 groups have protested against the intellectual property enforcement initiatives of the CII.
“It is disheartening to note that the CII, being an Indian industry organization, is hosting the Third International Conference on Counterfeiting and Piracy from 19-20th August 2009 in partnership with American Embassy and the Quality Brand Protection Committee (QBPC), China, a body that comprises over 80 multinational corporations”, Linu Mathew Phillip, acting director of the Delhi-based Centre for Trade and Development said. “It is of immense concern to all of us, since higher norms of intellectual property enforcement necessarily undermine various other rights of the people at large, including the right to access to medicines and access to knowledge,” he added.