Intellectual property rights sensitivity should not be at the expense of public health obligations

Source– The post is based on the article “Intellectual property rights sensitivity should not be at the expense of public health obligations” published in The Indian Express on 30th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS3- Issues relating to intellectual property rights

Relevance– Innovation ecosystem

News– The article explains the National IPR policy. It tells about changes introduced in the IPR ecosystem in India and issues relating to it. It also explains the rationale behind Patent Act.

What are some facts about the National IPR Policy?

The overall purpose was to spell out the government’s comprehensive vision for the IPR ecosystem in the country for a more innovative and creative Bharat. Seven broad objectives were spelt out. Three of important goals are-

To have strong and effective IPR laws, which balance the interests of right owners with larger public interest.

To modernise and strengthen service-oriented IPR administration.

To strengthen the enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms for combating IPR infringements.

What are some structural and legislative changes introduced in the IPR ecosystem in the country?

The Intellectual Property Appellate Board was dissolved in April 2021 as part of tribunal reforms. Its jurisdiction was re-transferred to high courts.

This was followed by the establishment of dedicated IP benches by the Delhi High Court.

Efforts have been made to improve the infrastructure and strength of the Indian Patent Office.

What are the issues with the IPR ecosystem in India?

Patents have been provided in the pharmaceutical sector at the expense of public health and national interest. This is despite the presence of legislative safeguards in the Patents Act which were introduced between 1999 and 2005 to secure national interest.

Provisions such as Sections 3(d), 53(4) and 107A of the Patents Act were introduced to prevent the practice of “evergreening” of patents by pharmaceutical companies.

“Evergreening patents” on drugs relating to treatment of diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular continue to be granted to pharmaceutical innovator companies.

They are regularly enforced through courts at the expense of the statutory rights of generic manufacturers.

There is the non-application of the Supreme Court’s verdict in Novartis AG v. Union of India & Others (2013) to prevent the evergreening of a patent monopoly on drugs.

The Supreme Court ruling has not yielded mature outcomes from the Patent Office and subordinate courts.

The direct consequence of this is the delayed entry of generic versions of drugs. This adversely affects the availability of affordable medicines to patients in a lower middle-income country such as India.

What is the rationale behind IP legislations such as the Patents Act?

They do not exist for the sole benefit of IP right owners. The intended beneficiary of the underlying Patents Act is the society. It is expected to benefit from dynamic innovation-based competition between market players.

Patent monopolies are granted to innovators in the hope that they will disclose something inventive and of industrial value to the public. The public may use it without the need for a licence after the expiry of the patent.

It increases the general pool of knowledge in the public domain. The other economic assumption is that it is expected to trigger innovation-driven competition between market players.

It results in increasing the quality options for the consuming public.

What is the way forward?

There are four stakeholders under the Patents Act — the society, government, patentees and their competitors. Each of these stakeholders has rights under the statute.

To enforce the Act to the exclusive benefit of patentees abridges the legitimate rights of other stakeholders. It leads to anti-competitive market outcomes.

It is needed to reform the IPR ecosystem to attract investment. However, it should not be at the expense of public health obligations and long-term national interest.

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