India getting mixed signals from Big Pharma


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The International Business Times reports that there is talk about India possibly seeing a complaint being lodged against it at the WTO due to its ‘disregard of corporate intellectual property’. This discussion came up at the US Chamber of Commerce’s event “Innovation in India: A Risky Investment?”.  According to IP-Watch, the Chamber did not do most of the talking but rather presentations were made by two think tank consultants, Shankar Singham of Babson Global and Paul Howard of Manhattan Institute. IP Watch adds, “Unsurprisingly, both presenters made the argument that India is doing damage to itself and others by not sufficiently respecting intellectual property rights.” Confusingly, Singham’s line of argument, stemming from calling IP a subset of property rights, went on to say that the ones most harmed by a regime like India’s, are small companies. I say ‘confusingly’ because the context of the event clearly seems to be Big Pharma’s approach to India. (Random, possibly unrelated, fact: they both advised Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential campaign). Much of the conference also seems to have focused around the fact that other countries, South Africa specifically being mentioned, are being influenced by India’s policies. Do read the IP-Watch article for other details of the event.

I’m not sure which state would hypothetically be filing this complaint but if this is true, it may in fact be in India’s best interest to get this matter decided rather than have to deal with the repetitive rhetorical jabs by Big Pharma and their lobbied governments. Especially given that in trying to please its corporate lobbyists, US is pushing hard to sneak more restrictive patent laws into potentially norm setting international treaties (see here and here). As several others, including a recent post here, have argued, India’s ‘problematic’ patent policies are almost definitely TRIPS compliant.

Having said that… 

GSK-logoApparently, the conference did not do a good enough job at convincing stakeholders of how risky it is to invest in India. On the same day as the above mentioned conference, Glaxo Smith Kline announced that they are making an 864 crore investment in India to set up a medicine manufacturing unit. I was pleasantly surprised to see GSK’s CEO, Andrew Witty, stating that India’s policies on patents and pricing are understandable, even reasonable – even if they do pain the pharma industry. Going by this article, Witty took a refreshingly positive stance in this often polarized area, stating that its perfectly understandable that a country like India needs to be very careful about pricing its drugs and that Big Pharma cannot expect to conduct business like they would in a western state – while also stating the importance of dialogue [with the government] as the way forward rather than a plain attack on patents. With reference to the newly announced manufacturing unit, the article states “new production plant and warehouse there, most likely in Bangalore… will be able to turn out up to 8 billion tablets and 1 billion capsules a year.”

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