Foreign drug makers urge government to review IPR think tank

Source: Economic Times

24 Nov 2014

NEW DELHI: Foreign drug makers are urging the government to review the membership of a think tank it has set up to formulate intellectual property rights (IPR) policy in the next few months, saying that it lacks representation from innovator firms and needs to be more balanced. Their Indian rivals counter that by saying the panel is supposed to draw up a framework that would be in the country’s best interests.

“At the least, we could have expected this body to include a representative from the research-driven industry or an IP owner that has some skin in the game!” the Organisation of Pharma Producers of India (OPPI) has written to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. “We ask DIPP to please review the constitution of this think-tank and allow the inclusion of some members that could bring more balance to the discussion.”

OPPI’s members are mostly pharmaceutical companies from the US and Europe. “We have written to the government seeking more balance in the membership of the panel,” OPPI director general Ranjana Smetacek confirmed to ET.

The panel set up by DIPP last month is headed by former Intellectual Property Appellate Board chairperson Prabha Sridevan and includes lawyers Pratibha M Singh and Punita Bhargava, apart from Unnat Pandit of Cadila Pharmaceuticals, Asian School of Business director Rajeev Srinivasan and Narendra K Sabarwal, retired deputy director general, World Intellectual Property Organization.

A similar point has also been raised by the US pharmaceutical and biotech groupings— PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) and BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization)–in their submissions to the US Trade Representative’s office. USTR Michael Froman is scheduled to visit India later this month and will meet Nirmala Sitharaman, minister of commerce and industry, during his trip.

Indian drug makers said the government shouldn’t be swayed by such demands.

“This is a national policy that India is framing. Foreign companies can send their inputs to the think tank if they want to be heard. For that they don’t need to be part of the core group,” said DG Shah, secretary general, Indian Pharma Alliance, a grouping of leading domestic manufacturers.

In its submission to the USTR, PhRMA favoured the development of a comprehensive IPR policy in India. It complained that the process has lacked transparency and opportunity for meaningful stakeholder input, particularly IP holders.

“Justice Prabha Sridevan, former chairperson of Indian Intellectual Appellate Board (IPAB), is chairing the think tank and she has a rather broad mandate, according to the terms of reference,” said Lila Feisee, vice president, international affairs, BIO, in her submission to the USTR. “Ms. Sridevan has been outspoken in her defence of her interpretation of Indian patent law, which has generally favored local generic industry.”

Shah defended Sridevan. “Questioning the bona fide of a quasi-judicial entity in such a manner is totally unfair. She has delivered some of the finest judgements, including on the compulsory licence of cancer drug Nexavar,” he said.

As IPAB chairperson, Sridevan had upheld the grant of India’s first compulsory licence (CL) for Bayer’s cancer drug Nexavar, but had struck down one of the three grounds that had been cited. In her judgement of March 2013, she said that the patent controller had erred in concluding that a multinational will have to manufacture its drug locally to meet the “working” requirement and avoid a CL. This clause had been cited by many innovator drug firms as ‘troubling’.

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