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India Responds to IP Issues Raised Over Novartis Case
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On his visit to the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, India’s Trade Minister Anand Sharma gave some straightforward answers and raised some cogent issues. The tirade over intellectual property rights raised by pharmaceutical companies after the top court in India denied Novartis’ bid for patent protection on its cancer drug, Glivec, was addressed by Sharma.

The first thing Sharma said was that India’s government had never exercised its executive power to compel any company to make cheap drugs available. However, India reserved its right to do so, if and whenever the government feels such a step is required.

While admitting that protection of intellectual property rights was a critical question, Sharma observed, “What is good, to allow people to die or to make the medicine available? That’s the larger question.”


Sharma said that Novartis had “absolutely no reason to complain” against the India government because the case was decided by the independent judiciary and not by the executive wing of the government.

Sharma further stressed that India was a source of a huge amount of intellectual property and had an interest in protecting such property, and as such was respectful of the same when it came to others. He said the Glivec decision would not affect investment into India.

However, Sharma stressed that the court decision to deny Novartis patent protection for Glivec was absolutely justified under the intellectual property rules of the World Trade Organization. He said, the rules, also known as the TRIPS agreement contains “a flexibility that has been negotiated and integral” to TRIPS, and developed countries often use the right to compulsory licensing.

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In fact, Sharma drew attention to the fact that developed countries had used the right to compulsory licensing at least 160 times, within which more than 63 times, the power was used by the executive. So, when it came to developing countries, they had the right to make available affordable medicines in response to life-threatening diseases or epidemics.



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