In a landmark decision in an intellectual property rights (IPR) dispute, the Supreme Court has rejected the drug application of Novartis, a Swiss drugmaker for a major cancer drug. The ruling will allow poor patients to access many of the world's best drugs at a cheap cost. The ruling allows Indian makers to continue making generic or copycat versions of Novartis’ drug Glivec. The drug has a miraculous effect in cases of leukemia.
The Court ruled that the patent which Novartis had sought for Gleevec did not represent a “novel invention”. In many ways, this ruling is something of a historic anomaly. India's 2005 patent law permit drug patents on medicines discovered after 1995. In 1993, Novartis patented a version of Glivec that it later abandoned, but the judges have ruled that the two versions were not different enough for the later one to justify a separate patent.
A relevant example is Nexium, a heartburn pill that was the world's biggest selling drug, is almost identical to Prilosec. But both managed to win U.S. patents, something that would not happen in India under the new ruling. While the pharma industry argues that fairly liberal rules on patenting lead to innovation, academics differ in their views. Indeed, there is evidence that widespread patenting in biotechnology, particularly on research tools and gene-based discoveries - may be impeding the search for new drugs.
The ruling is likely to cause concern to the USAs and the global pharma industry, and may be another blow to India's standing because many cos view their intellectual property as vital to their business.But its effect will be far wider as the patients in other countries. It will maintain India's role as the world's most important provider of economical medicines, critical in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Glivec can cost as much as Re. 1.40 lac per month while its Indian generic versions cost about Re. 7000 /- a month.
The judgment is being hailed as a victory for patients in India abroad. India, being the global pharmacy capital, can continue making affordable medicines without any patent restrictions for
"minor modifications of medicines." The ruling is a watershed in a very important economic battle, in which rich nations that increasingly rely on idea-based products like computer programmes and medicines to compel poor countries to pay for their ideas.
While the goods made by poor countries cannot easily be shared, the ideas of rich countries can be. So rich countries insist that poor countries give the world's most profitable companies government-sanctioned monopolies for marketing their innovative ideas. But some them - particularly India, Brazil and China - have begun to question the price they must pay for these products and whether paying such prices does them any good.
India exports about Re. 55000 Crores worth of generic medicine every year, more than any other country. Its home drug market is dominated by generics.