Patent Act - Beginning of a new era
Written by Pharma Pulse   
Thursday, 31 March 2005

Patent Act - Beginning of a new era

Image The patent law is a step that would help in opening of knowledge centres in the Indian villages and lead us to be a developed economy in the coming decades, feels Harinder S Sikka.
The new Patent Act is seen by many as a demon that has been released by the Parliament to strangle the poor of our country. It is even more shocking to note media giants like the New York Times coming out with misguiding editorials, possibly aimed at stifling India’s strength and prowess in science and technology. While such publications ought to be relegated to the dustbin of the history, it is important yet to analyse threadbare whether the new Patent Act is a sell-out or a well-planned game plan to isolate India at the WTO.

Without reforms, India would not have reached such dizzy heights. It yet does not deter select Indian companies to seek extra protection on their home turf. Ironically, these pharma majors are also filing patents abroad and are doing roaring business in the very countries where patent laws are strictly in force. The double talk, therefore, not only sends a wrong signal worldwide, it also demeans the well-established strength of the Indian intellect that is headed for the destination 2020.

There is a concerted move to crush India’s science and technology skills. The well-known British think-tank Chatham House ran a seminar entitled, ‘‘Can Indian research change the paradigm of the global pharmaceutical industry?’’ After the conference many Indian companies showcased their research.

Consequently, streams of foreign R&D heads have been arriving in India to seek partnerships with Indian companies across the whole pharma supply chain including clinical, discovery, herbal research and manufacturing.

Robert Blackwill, former Dean of Harvard University and Ambassador to India said, ‘‘There has been a sea change in attitude by the people of India towards patents as they reap the benefits of the knowledge economy. The science and technology prowess of India is cutting edge and she must take her rightful place, along with China at the head of developed economies.’’

Similarly, in the 229th meeting of the American Chemical Society, the policy makers noted that scientists from India would soon be able to have the most innovative products outclassing the Americans.

While a new drug development costs touch $1.5 billion overseas, it is an established fact that India can produce state-of-the-art drugs at a fraction of that amount leveraging on low cost, high quality, speed and large patient profile.

Together with the presence of largest number of US FDA approved plants outside the USA, producing high quality drugs at lowest cost, India is in an enviable position to take on the best in the world. It is this reality that is causing worries for the policy makers in the West.

The Patent Act, 2005 can in no way influence cost of drugs. The bogey ‘that prices would go up’ is repeated ad nauseum. The government has taken care that drugs patented before 1995 are not covered by the patents. These include the drugs in the WHO essential list. With over 20,000 competitors, market forces will keep the prices under control.

Rise in prices, if at all, would be more due to illogical policies of the finance ministry and rising duties and taxes than the patent law.

Similarly, an impression that patents will bring in evergreening and monopolies is ill founded. In India, 97 per cent of drugs are off patent and are manufactured by a vast number of companies. Besides, physicians will always have the alternative of using older, cheaper but equally effective molecules to treat patients.

Big pharma companies may enter India, not just to set up their own facilities but also to actively partner with Indian scientists, academic institutions and hospitals. Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat are already leading in clinical trials and work done there is accepted even by the foreign regulatory agencies, where quality requirements are most stringent.

India, by not reneging on its commitment, will now be part of the global knowledge economy. This, in turn, would increase manifold cross border research, alliances, outsourcing, contract manufacturing, clinical research and in-licensing/out-licensing of products and services. Consequently, this would also bring in a paradigm shift in the pharma industry worldwide, enabling India to take her rightful place at the head of the table among the developed nations. This would also mean that Indian drugs would move up the value chain.

China brought world-class patent act and data protection laws years before it was required to for similar reasons. Although it is behind India in research and development, it seems to be catching up quickly and is pouring billions of dollars in life sciences and biotechnology. Singapore, Thailand and Korea, too, are leaving no stone unturned to be on the forefront in the area of knowledge economy.

Intellectual property is a journey and will evolve over time as has happened in cases of telecom, insurance sectors. These sectors, due to new legislations, not only have witnessed steep fall in costs, the quality has also improved manifold. It is not by accident that CSIR has filed largest number of patents abroad. It only shows that the Indian intellect is capable of creating its own space given the freedom to spread the wings of its intellect to its full potential. The patent law is a step that would help in opening of knowledge centres in the Indian villages and lead us to be a developed economy in the coming decades.

The writer is senior president, Corporate, Nicholas Piramal India Limited.
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