India honors – not dishonors – patent laws

Intellectual property laws passed over forty years have extensively protected patents, designs and trademarks. The Patents Act of 1970, amended in 1999, 2002 and 2005, is considered a model in the developing world. Critics who say otherwise are simply wrong.

Indeed, the most prominently cited example of alleged patent “infringement” is actually a case study in patent protection. The Indian Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment in April, turned down a request by the pharmaceutical company Novartis to retain the patent on a cancer drug because it judged the drug to be an extension of existing medications, not a groundbreaking advancement. In other words, the court reinforced the premium that should rightly be placed on truly valid patents, strengthening, not weakening, their sanctity.

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India makes a priority of complying with international treaties such as the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the World Trade Organization. In March, an Indian patent appeals court ruled that the so-called compulsory license law that helps make medicines affordable for the 300 million Indians who live below the poverty line, was strictly TRIPS-compliant.

India’s rigorous patent laws and adherence to international trade treaties are helping its 1.2 billion people deal with many challenges. We understand that economic growth and job creation are irrevocably linked to the rule of law. India is proud to be a prodigious incubator of innovation and to have gained the confidence of foreign investors.

Direct equity investments from the U.S. to India have continued to flow, ranging between $1 billion and $2 billion a year over the last five years. These investments have been across multiple sectors, including pharmaceutical research. The Indian Patent Office treats the nationals of other countries the same way it treats Indian companies. From 2005 to 2011, more than 4,000 patents for pharmaceutical inventions were issued by the Patent Office. Of those granted, substantial numbers - 20-30 percent - were awarded to U.S.-based companies each year, and more than 85 percent were owned by foreign companies in India.

At the same time, India like many developing nations struggles with poverty, inequality and shortcomings in health care.  We have worked hard to combat challenges to inclusive growth and development. International treaties permit countries to make affordable, life-saving drugs available to people most in need at affordable prices. India has done so in a way that is both legal and sensitive to the principle of patent protection.

We have also worked hard to balance the rights of patent holders with our civic imperative to protect public health. Compulsory licensing has been an integral part of the patent regime of many countries for years. Fifteen countries, both developed and developing countries alike, have issued more than 35 compulsory licenses.

In more than six decades, India has issued only one compulsory license on a compound pharmaceutical. This is hardly evidence of a climate hostile to either innovation or U.S.-based companies. The provisions for compulsory licensing are not meant to hamper the process of innovation, but to ensure a fair balance between the interests of innovators and the urgent need for improved health care.

India is proud to be the world’s largest producer of generic drugs with a 25 percent global market share, which has earned the country the name of  “the pharmacy of the world”.  India’s production of high-quality antiretroviral therapies is estimated to have cut the cost of treatments for HIV/AIDS by 99 percent, from $10,000-$15,000 per patient per year to less than $100 – a cost saving that has improved the lives of millions of people and provided them hope for their future.

In their Strategic Partnership, the U.S. and India cooperate on many fronts, with health care, disease control and prevention near the top of the list. India is dedicated to enhancing that partnership through its careful backing of patent law.

Rao is India's ambassador to the U.S.