Source : The Economic Times, 4 May, 2015
India is fully aligned with international intellectual property rights standards and “there is no need for anyone to question us”, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, rebuffing a US report released last week that questions India’s IP policies. Speaking to Economic Times a day after the US Trade Representative (USTR) placed India along with China and 11 other countries on the ‘Priority Watch List’ for having a poor record of protecting IPRs, the minister said India will safeguard its interests even as it follows international rules.
On Modi’s remark on patents
On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in April that India should align its patent laws with “international standards”, Sitharaman said what the PM said was that while India was compliant with global standards, it must remain so. This statement of Modi, made in Hindi, has been lauded by the USTR in its report, which urged India to expeditiously undertake the initiatives stated by the PM. “Even till now, let me underline, there hasn’t been a single case where we have been dragged to world court on IPR matters,” said Sitharaman, adding however that the country needs a greater push for innovations.
Patent experts say top political leaders of the country must be careful with their statements on sensitive issues like IPR.
“Prime Minister Modi should be careful while making public statements on patents and IPR issues, considering the consequences. The US has picked up his statement and made it part of its official policy document as a national admission that India is not aligned with international IPR standards,” said Shamnad Basheer, a patent expert.
Different arms of the government are not speaking the same language on IPR, which is leading to confusion on where India stands on these issues and where it is heading, Basheer said. This statement of the PM came under scathing attack of public health groups, which questioned the intent of the government on IPR given that Indian laws are already compliant with Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). IPR issues have been a sticky point in Indo-US relations, with the Obama government — prompted by Big Pharmas — demanding that India change some of its patent laws.
Sitharaman said India will continue to engage with the US on IPR. “The US has greater engagement with India than before. And they have acknowledged that, which underlines the fact that we are absolutely upfront and willing to discuss issues that is in our national interest,” she said. India has a robust legislative framework and the nation has always been on the side of the law in relation to IPR matters and absolutely compliant with WTO on this, she said, adding that the government, at the same time, has no hesitation in talking or engaging on the matter.
On India’s image
The USTR dubs India and China as sources of most of counterfeit pharmaceuticals shipped to the US and alleges that up to 20% of drugs sold in the Indian market are counterfeit, posing a serious threat to patient health and safety. Allegations such as these could seriously dent the image of India, which is one of the largest source of generic drugs globally.
The minister said the government will not let India’s image get hurt and will take up this matter with the US. “We have facts in hand and we will be able to speak for India’s interests. We will take it up with the US. Not to confront, but to speak about it. We will clear any doubts in their minds, and we have a clear objective (there),” she said. India exports pharma products worth $15 billion annually to over 200 countries.