WIPR 15 November 1998
INDIA ANNOUNCES INTENT TO ACCEPT WTO RULING ON PATENT PROTECTION
NEW DELHI--India will abide by the World Trade Organization ruling against it on patent protection for pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemical products, the government announced September 18.
A WTO panel ruling on the matter was formally adopted by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body September 22. The DSB formally adopted a panel finding issued in August which concluded that India had violated the WTO's Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) by failing to establish an adequate "mailbox" system for the filing of patent applications by January 1, 1995. The decision of the panel, which was requested by the European Union, was identical to a September 1997 finding on the same issue by a separate panel established upon the request of the United States.
The WTO panel held that the European Union could impose anti-subsidy duties on Indian pharmaceuticals because of India's failure to establish the "mailbox" system for filing patents. Indian officials had said earlier that they would appeal the ruling, but after a Cabinet meeting on September 17, the government decided to withdraw its appeal, a government spokesperson said.
The Indian government will carry out the patent changes mandated by the WTO before April 19, 1999, a government release said. At the same time, however, the government decided to prepare its own antidumping bill to "protect Indian industry," according to the same release. The new law would allow the government to restrict imports as necessary. The bill will be in accord with WTO guidelines, the release said.
The government's about-face on the patent dispute came two weeks after Indian Industry Minister Sikander Bakht told domestic industry that India would accede to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Patent Cooperation Treaty.
"It is our firm belief that with this step India would integrate itself with the world community in respect to intellectual property and provide the necessary opening to its scientists and inventors. This would also help to boost our exports and build up the necessary documentation of scientific information," Bakht told the September 1 meeting. "We would now like the scientific and research community to make use of this opportunity to seek global protection for their inventions."
As part of this move, Bakht said the government has started to modernize the country's patent offices, an effort that includes computerization, human resource development, and the removal of the backlog of patent applications.
Whether to sign the Paris Convention had been the subject of wide-ranging discussion and dispute in India, as many drug manufacturers and others said
that the Indian system, which patents only one process for manufacturing an item and not the item itself, has fostered inexpensive and widespread use of modern technology. Part of the proposed government change is to remove this idiosyncrasy of the Indian patent system.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers told WIPR in earlier interviews that changes to the patent laws would mean a dramatic jump in the cost of drugs. At the same time, there has been a large national outcry about the patenting of Basmati rice by a U.S. company. Many, including one member of the Cabinet, have called this a theft of traditional Indian heritage.
As a result of this patent, the environment ministry is holding a series of meetings on protecting indigenous products, and may also introduce legislation in the winter Parliament session on protection of native knowledge and products, an environment ministry spokesman told WIPR.
Copyright Â© 1998 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.
World Intellectual Property Report Volume 12 Number 11 Sunday, November 15, 1998