Indian Civil Society Raises Concerns Over US Industry-Sponsored IP SummitsPublished on 11 March 2010 @ 5:42 pm
By Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch
Public interest groups in India are raising questions over annual summits involving Indian judges and policymakers that are being funded by major western industry groups, in particular pharmaceutical companies. At this year’s summit, held recently, a section of India’s patent law which prevents the extension of monopoly power for incremental innovations came under attack, the groups have said.
India is a key supplier of generic drugs to the developing world, so its intellectual property legislation is of concern both within and outside its national borders.
But since the country modified its patent laws in 2005 to come into compliance with the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, “there are continuing attempts … by the multinational pharmaceutical industry and through free trade agreement negotiations with developed countries to force India to adopt greater standards” of IP protection than required by TRIPS, says a recent letter signed by the public interest groups.
The IP summits, organised under the auspices of the India Project of the George Washington University (US), seems like a continuation of this process, says the letter.
The letter is addressed to Shri Anand Sharma, the Indian minister of commerce and industry, and calls for an end to “unethical and non-transparent lobbying with judges and policymakers” masquerading as an academic exercise. It further calls for the Indian government to disassociate itself from the summits’ Indian organising partner, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which it says “no longer promotes the interests of India or of domestic companies.” It is dated 26 February.
The Intellectual Property Rights Summit met for the seventh time from 14-18 February in Delhi. The George Washington Law School has been organising them since 2004 with the help of CII as a part of its India Project, says the events programme [pdf].
The purpose of the summit according to its organisers is to “enhance education in the field of intellectual property law,” and they include mock trials held in front of US and Indian judges and lawyers as well as roundtables and visits to key IP offices. Participants include representatives from major law firms, companies and industry associations as well as governments and academics. Civil society groups are not listed.
The summit is also associated with the Creative & Innovative Economy Center at George Washington University, a group launched in 2006 which promotes industry views in developing countries (IPW, Lobbying, 3 April 2006). Intellectual Property Watch interviewed its director here: IPW, Inside Views, 31 March 2006.
The annual summit’s sponsors over the last few years have included Novartis and Gilead Sciences – both companies who have ongoing, high-profile disputes involving India’s patent law (IPW, Public Health, 2 September 2009) – as well as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and the US-India Business Council – which published last year a report criticising Section 3(d) of India’s patent law [pdf], which prevents companies from receiving patents on improved (rather than new) formulations of medicine – according to the civil society letter.
These meetings are being used as a forum for such groups to “promote their intellectual property and to lobby for either law amendments or even to plead their cases,” the letter said. For example, Gilead presented a case as to why its patent application on its AIDS drug tenofovir should not have been rejected, and the law firm representing Novartis in a challenge to Section 3(d) made a presentation saying the law did not comply with TRIPS, the letter said.
Companies with a “vested interest in software patents” such as Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft, and Qualcomm also have been involved, although such patents are not currently allowed in the country, it added.
Further, the ministers and members of the judiciary who are invited to these events are not being fully informed of who is backing them, it said.
This year’s conference included a seminar on the role of intellectual property in technology development and transfer, with discussions on technology transfer through licensing and joint ventures and “legislation on reliable technology transfer mechanism like Bayh-Dole type legislation,” according to its programme. Bayh-Dole is a US law that allows universities and other publicly funded institutions to own intellectual property over innovations.
It also included a symposium on the “IP Ecosystem for Sustainable Business,” with discussions on IP in life science, “patentable subject matter in biotechnology and pharma, enablement and written description requirements in patent law,” patent litigation differences between India and the US, and IP issues in software and electronics, according to the suggested programme.
Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com.