India, China, others move to counter US, EU patent pressure

07 Mar 2017


Emerging economies, including India, China, Brazil and South Africa have teamed up to counter a push by the United States and the European Union for more stringent global intellectual property rules.

The four countries have called for intensive discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on a United Nations report recommending rigorous definition of invention and criteria for granting of pharmaceutical patents.

The UN report also proposes punishment for those using political or commercial pressure to check use of flexibilities allowed under the WTO's intellectual property rights (IPR) rules, says a report in The Hindu Business Line.

Multinational pharmaceutical companies use cosmetic changes in drug formulations to keep evergreening their patents and keep drug prices high at the cost of poor patients in emerging and poor countries, the countries point out.

Instead, the emerging countries say, there is a need for the UN report on access to medicines to be discussed threadbare at the WTO as it brings to light the way patents are being granted even when there are just cosmetic changes in the new form of a drug.

Also, they point out that the fresh pressure by the West is intended to support such evergreening of patents, that India and other countries try to resist, says the report quoting official sources.

Initiating a discussion on the UN report at a recent TRIPS council meeting of the WTO, the four countries also sought the inclusion of the item in the agenda of the council's next meeting.

The TRIPS council continued its discussion of the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel Report on access to medicines, and on the issue more generally. Many WTO members said they were committed to ensuring access to medicines.

''The discussion is intended to facilitate an exchange of views on the recommendations of the UN Secretary General's high-level panel, as well as to share national experiences regarding the use of TRIPS flexibilities,'' the proponents said in their submission. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria and Egypt welcomed the report, calling it ''a significant and bold step''.

Some WTO members reiterated the Report's recommendations, including the call for rigorous definitions of criteria for granting pharmaceutical patents, and the need to preserve the right of WTO members to use flexibilities allowed under the WTO's intellectual property rules.

While recognising that this was not only an IP issue, some members showed support for continuing a constructive discussion of IP rights and access to medicine at the next TRIPS council, covering issues such as patentability criteria, flexibilities, and exceptions and limitations to patent rights.

Some WTO members reiterated their concerns about the narrow scope of the UN report focusing on ''policy incoherence''. A few members said they need more time to consider the recommendations. In the meantime, they encouraged members to focus work on how to effectively implement the revised TRIPS Agreement to ease access to affordable medicines.

The US has been continuously putting India in its 'priority watch' list of countries with lax IPR rules in its unilateral annual assessment of its trading partners.

The US also alleges that there is lack of clarity in India's rules for granting compulsory licences for manufacturing of copies of patented drugs in the case of national emergencies.

While Indian IPR laws are in line with the WTO's TRIPS agreement, countries such as the US and Switzerland are trying to make a case for non-violation complaints to be allowed under the TRIPS agreement.

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