India won't let local firms to override patents and make cheap copies of drugs

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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 US business advocacy group said.

Mumbai: 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 US business advocacy group said.

The comments were revealed in a submission last month by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) to the US Trade Representative (USTR), which is reviewing global intellectual property laws for an annual report identifying trade barriers to US companies.

The USTR has placed India on its “priority watch” list for two years in a row saying the country’s patent laws unfairly favour local drug makers. A bone of contention has been a legal provision that allows the overriding of patents on original drugs and granting of ‘compulsory licences’ to local firms to make cheaper generic medicines.

India can grant such licences under certain conditions, such as public health emergencies, to ensure access to affordable medicines for its mostly poor people. It granted the first such licence in 2012, allowing local firm Natco to sell a copy of German drugmaker Bayer’s cancer medicine Nexavar at a tenth of the price.

Since that ruling, big Western pharmaceutical companies have criticised India’s patent law and lobbied for it to be changed. In its submission to the USTR, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, the USIBC said the government “privately reassured” the group that it would not grant such licences to firms for commercial purposes. The government has made no such statements publicly. Officials have said they are committed to protecting the interests of patients.

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