India, Pharmacy to the Developing World, Must Honor IP Rights

The United States and India are locked in a vitriolic debate over intellectual property rights in the pharmaceutical sector. The tension between pharmaceutical patents and access to affordable medicines took center stage during President Obama’s three-day visit to India in January. For several years the United States has been increasing the pressure on India to adopt intellectual property protections similar to those of the U.S. and the European Union, without avail. According to the 2015 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Intellectual Property Index, India ranks 29th among 30 nations in their protection for intellectual property rights. The report scores nations in several IP dimensions, out of a maximum of 30 points. India scored 7.23 points, only Thailand was ranked lower, while the U.S., the highest-ranked country, scored 28.53 points.[1]

Claiming to be the “Pharmacy to the Developing World”, India argues that their lax intellectual property rights regime is critical to their ability to provide low-cost, quality generic drugs. They are wrong on two counts. First, India needs to honor IP rights, because without effective intellectual property rights, new pharmaceuticals will not be developed and the “Pharmacy to the Developing World” won’t have anything to provide to the developing world, or to anyone. Second, given the quality crisis in the Indian pharmaceutical industry, they shouldn’t be the pharmacy to anyone.

In early January 2015, the Indian government rejected Gilead Sciences Inc’s patent application for its Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi. This comes on the heels of numerous other attacks on pharmaceutical patents. As of mid-2014, India had “denied, revoked or otherwise attacked” the patents of 15 of the approximate 45 patented medicines on the Indian market.[2] The result is a regime of protectionism that coddles Indian industry at the cost of U.S. jobs. The pharmaceutical industry is but one of many industries experiencing such treatment. While the United States has welcomed Indian firms, India has shunned innovative U.S. firms. As described in his Pre-Hearing Statement to the U.S. International Trade Commission, Rod Hunter notes that Indian pharmaceutical firms have enjoyed unfettered access to the sizeable U.S. market.


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