Source: Times of India
Setting up of a bilateral mechanism on intellectual property (IP) rights through the US-India trade policy forum and the new draft national IP policy championing IP as the only way to promote innovation have raised apprehensions among health activists that India might concede ground on IP during President Obama’s visit.
HIV patient groups, activists working on access to medicine and IP academics have expressed the apprehension that Obama’s visit will pressurise India to dilute the provisions in its patent laws meant to safeguard public health priorities. They accused the government of trying to bypass Parliament on the issue of IP and undermining the patent law through administrative measures.
“As the people of India, we welcome President Obama, if he represents the American people. But we don’t want him as a representative of US business, especially the pharmaceutical industry, which is responsible for millions of deaths across the world by making drugs too expensive through monopoly pricing,” said Dr Amit Sengupta of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) , a network of organizations working on public health issues.
The US government recently reviewed India’s intellectual property system and declared it inadequate placing it on the US ‘Special 301 Watch List’, which could invite trade sanctions. “After the India-US joint summit where India bent over backwards to agree to set up an IP working group, what it gets in return is the US announcing an out-of-turn review of India’s patent laws and stance on IP. India has been on the US Trade Representative’s priority watch list for 30 years. So why is there sudden urgency regarding being on the watch list?” asked Dr Sengupta.
“Prime Minster Narendra Modi came as India’s strong man, but where is his strength if he cannot tackle a declining power like the US?” asked senior advocate Anand Grover of Lawyers Collective. “The result of US pressure is obvious in the draft national IP policy by the government’s newly constituted IP think tank which is glaringly ignorant and promotes IP as the only solution for innovation and creativity in India, contrary to any evidence,” added Grover.
Dinesh Abrol, convener of the National Working Group on Patent Laws, stated that Modi had already failed in the first level test of his strength to withstand pressure when he gave in to the US pressure by creating a bilateral mechanism like the US-India Trade Policy forum on a multilateral issue like patents that so far was addressed through a multilateral agency like the World Trade Organisation. He pointed out that India’s patent law had been passed unanimously by Parliament with support from BJP MPs including Arun Jaitley Murli Manohar Joshi and VK Malhotra, who had all sought the highest level of health safeguards in the law.
Forty civil society organisations, patient groups and community netwroks have raised a global petition rejecting US actions that could jeopardise India’s position as the pharmacy of the developing world. The petition has been supported by over 75,000 people who will be directly affected by changes in India’s IP policies.