Guest Post: An Appeal by Indian Civil Society to the U.S. President

Indian civil society organizations have sent an open letter to President Obama, informing him of the USPTO’s and U.S. Embassy’s attempts in influencing the course of the debate on Indian patent law. This letter follows another letter sent by these civil society organizations to the Minister of Commerce, objecting to the GWU-CII seminars and which we have blogged about here.

Avni Chari, a student of NALSAR, who has previously blogged for us, has sent us this concise summary on the contents of this second letter.

Avni S. Chari

In a letter dated 13 April, 2010, a conflation of Indian public interest, health, and patients groups appealed to the U.S. President to immediately cease all activity disrupting the state of Patent protection in India. The Indian Legislature, despite all legitimate reservations, has earnestly attempted to conform with TRIPS standards by amending the patent law to further extend the ambit of protection to pharmaceutical products. The demands laid out by TRIPS were carefully pursued keeping in mind that higher patent standards will reduce welfare, especially in developing countries. However, these attempts by the Indian Government have seemingly fallen short of satisfying U.S. expectations. Their disapproval has increasingly been manifested through aggressive lobbying and pressure politics in the country.

The recent letter to President Obama sharply elicits the gravity of the situation. The various signatory groups (NWGPL, AIDAN, JSA, DSF and Centad to name a few) begin the letter by expressing their solemn support for, “the principle of universal healthcare for all persons.” They underscore the fact that the price of medicines is a key factor in influencing the right to health, and lower patent criteria for medicines would threaten this right by precipitously heightening price.

The signatories sharply direct attention to the fact that the Indian generic pharmaceuticals market has been sustaining the lives of millions within and outside the country. Approximately 50% of the essential medicines that UNICEF distributes in developing countries come from India and 75-80% of all medicines distributed by the International Dispensary Association (IDA) are the consequence of this generic competition. India’s ability to continue supplying safe, effective and affordable generics to its own citizens and to most of the developing and least developed world depends on the continued and balanced use of TRIPS flexibilities, which is now being threatened by U.S. agencies.

Another cause for concern is the choice of Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical company, as an advocacy partner by the USPTO. The multinational is infamous in Asia and is known to have delayed generic entry of medicines in the Philippines. The company is further embroiled in serious bribery allegations in the Philippines and scandals of unethical drug promotion in the U.S. In response to upheaval by public interest groups, the USPTO has officially regretted associating with Pfizer. However such redress is insufficient and it is obliged to send individual regret letters to all the invitees and participants of the event.

The unethical lobbying practices of the USPTO-Pfizer duo in India have been an affront to the nation’s sovereignty. In this regard, the signatories of the letter seek the following:

(i) An apology from US Embassy in India and First Secretary for Intellectual Property for associating with Pfizer as against the official Policy or practices of the USPTO.
(ii) A formal investigation into the links between the USPTO in India and Pfizer.
(iii) Necessary action against the officials concerned for misinforming the Indian media and the general public about its own Patent laws and public health safe guards.

The letter asks that, “The U.S. immediately cease their activities in India in promoting ever increasing intellectual property protection and TRIPS-plus measures and in lobbying against the use of TRIPS-flexibilities by the Indian Parliament.”

The U.S. lobbying last year outraged Indian sentiments and spurred pockets of sporadic commotion from every corner concerned with IPR, pharmaceuticals or simply public interest in general. This letter has been the first instance of a concerted effort expressing firm and clear admonition against the unethical lobbying of the U.S.

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

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