August 10, 2007

US backed India on Glivec patent

A day after the Madras High Court struck down the petition of pharma giant Novartis on Glivec, civil society organisations, including Medecins sans Frontieres, celebrated the ruling at Basel and delivered a petition with half-a-million signatures to the Swiss company urging it not to challenge the decision. Read about Novartis loosing case against Indian Patent Law

The petition underscores the growing support for the developing countries’ right to take steps for the well-being of their people. In fact, India has also been backed by the US on this vexed issue.

In February, Henry A Waxman, chairman of the House committee on oversight and government reform, wrote to the Novartis chairman requesting him to withdraw the petition. The letter stated that “Novartis and its colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry should respect countries’ rights to take measures that balance the protection of innovation and the promotion of public health”.

Senator Waxman expressed his concern that the attempt of Novartis “to influence domestic Indian law could have a severe impact on worldwide access to medicines”. India’s robust generics market supplies “affordable, essential drugs both to its citizens and to poor nations around the world” and its laws “contain safeguards designed to preserve a balance between protecting innovation and promoting public health”.

This “crucial supply of medicines” could be threatened if India is put under pressure to make its patent laws “more stringent than its obligations under international trade law.”

Waxmann slammed Novartis for challenging the public safeguards of Indian law instead of appealing against the Indian Patent Office’s rejection, calling the grounds for the challenge as “questionable”.

He points out that in 2001, at Doha, 142 countries, including the US, declared that international intellectual property obligations “can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members’ rights to protect public health, and in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

According to Waxman India’s law appears to protect innovation, by providing for a 20-year patent protection for innovative products. Even if in the eyes of the pharmaceutical industry the Indian law has shortcomings, patent holders continue “to enjoy stringent protection in the US and other wealthy nations, where they make the bulk of their profits.”

Related: Novartis looses battle against Indian Patent Law

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