Techdirt has been covering India's complex relationship with pharma patents since at least 2009. In particular, we've been following for years India's use of compulsory licenses to provide its people with access to life-saving drugs at affordable prices. Naturally, Big Pharma companies in both the US and EU hate that, not least because it might encourage other countries to do the same. As a result, the US pharmaceutical industry in particular has been applying political pressure to get India to stop using compulsory licenses, even though they are a perfectly legitimate policy tool under the WTO TRIPS Agreement. Two years ago, Techdirt noted that India was already becoming more cautious on the compulsory licensing front, and a new report from Reuters suggests it may finally have bowed to US pressure:
India has given private assurances that it will not grant licences allowing local firms to override patents and make cheap copies of drugs by big Western drugmakers, a U.S. business advocacy group said.
There's been no official confirmation from the Indian government of that decision, nor an explanation of why it has decided to give in, assuming it has. The Reuters article mentions the fact that India had been placed for two years in a row on the infamous Special 301 Report's "Priority Watch List". That's one of the favorite ways in which PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, tries to bully countries -- or even entire continents -- into doing its bidding. But giving up compulsory licenses just to stay off the Special 301 naughty step seems an incredibly high price to pay, for reasons explained by Knowledge Ecology International (KEI):
The comments were revealed in a submission last month by the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which is reviewing global intellectual property laws for an annual report identifying trade barriers to U.S. companies.
"If such an agreement [between the Indian government and the US drug industry] in fact exists, this is extremely troubling news ... this sort of pressure is basically a declaration of war on poor cancer patients," KEI said in its own submission to the USTR last week.
Given the USIBC document that Reuters says it has seen, it seems likely that the Indian government has indeed given some sort of assurance to the US companies. But the fact that it has been kept quiet shows that the politicians are fully aware of how unpopular the move will be once the Indian public finds out about it. That provides some hope the policy could be reversed if enough people in India start complaining, as happened recently with software patents.
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