Source: Economic Times
24 Nov 2014
NEW DELHI: Public health groups successfully prevented meetings that had been scheduled between a visiting delegation of a US industry patent grouping and judges of the Delhi High Court and the Intellectual Property Appellate Board last week after questioning the propriety of such discussions, people familiar with the matter told ET.
Members of the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO), a group representing the interests of IP owners from companies across sectors, met government officials, including those from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion and patent offices, during their seven-day visit.
Their plans to hold meetings at the Delhi High Court and IPAB had to be put off after patients groups, health activists and public interest lawyers objected, calling these efforts ‘blatant attempts to influence judicial outcomes in cases relating to drug patent disputes that are currently before the courts.’
The public interest groups said in a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, HL Dattu, that IPO’s members include pharmaceutical multinationals Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, MerckBSE -1.30 % and Pfizer Inc, which have cases pending before the IPAB and the Delhi High Court.
“Providing privileged access of an IP lobby group to the highest levels of the judiciary and key quasi-judicial bodies like the IPAB, involves a serious conflict of interest and would cast a dark shadow on the neutrality of the judiciary,” they said in the letter. IPO did not respond to ET’s queries seeking comment on the cancellation of the meetings.
Earlier, similar pressure from activists had prompted the recusal of Supreme Court Judge Dalveer Bhandari from the high-profile Novartis case at an advanced stage of hearings in 2011. Bhandari withdrew after health activists objected to his participation in two international conferences for judges hosted by IPO, whose members included Novartis.
The case concluded two years later with the apex court turning down the plea by Novartis to grant a patent to its cancer drug Glivec. Pharma industry experts told ET that industry groups should not seek such exclusive meetings with judges.
“That’s the norm across the world. Interactions of the judiciary with the industry on a public forum are still considered acceptable. In fact, meetings of the foreign delegation with government officials should also be held under protocol as these are usually bilateral arrangements,” said Ramesh Adige, a former executive director of Ranbaxy Laboratories.
“These meetings provide opportunities for indirect lobbying and clearly violate code of ethics. Why do these companies and industry representatives want to share their experiences and perspectives on intellectual property with the judiciary in bilateral and exclusive settings?” said KM Gopakumar of Third World Network, an international non-profit organisation that works on developmental issues including access to medicines. Gopakumar was among those who signed the letter objecting to IPO’s meetings last week.