Indian official disputes Novartis chief's patent complaints

Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez

It's another dust-up in India for Novartis ($NVS). CEO Joe Jimenez wrote to Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, accusing the country of discrimination. India's intellectual property regime is deteriorating, Jimenez contended, and the government is favoring domestic companies over multinationals.

Now, Commerce Secretary S.R. Rao has fired back. Notwithstanding high-profile rejections--such as Novartis' unsuccessful fight for a Glivec patent--the Indian system is far from discriminatory, Rao wrote in response. In fact, he said, global pharma companies have captured the vast majority of patents issued in the industry.

"You would appreciate that more than 80% of patents registered in India are attributed to non-Indians," Rao said (as quoted by The Economic Times). "Multinational pharma companies such as Novartis have been major beneficiaries of India's patent regime."

In fact, Rao pointed out, Novartis itself has 147 Indian patents. Spotlighting its loss on Glivec is unfair, the Indian official said. "Isolating one instance ... [creates] an unfair impression," he wrote, going on to say, "Companies like Novartis have long association with the Indian market and we do not see any reason for disillusion or disappointment."

Of course, the Glivec patent case was a high-profile, high-stakes fight that came to symbolize India's attitude toward foreign drugmakers. But patent officials have made plenty of moves against Big Pharma products. Patents have been revoked--on Roche's ($RHHBY) Pegasys and Pfizer's ($PFE) Sutent, among others. India issued a compulsory license on Bayer's Nexavar, allowing domestic drugmaker Natco Pharma to sell cheap versions of the on-patent cancer drug at cut-rate prices.

The Indian government is trying to open up cutting-edge treatment to poor citizens. Drugmakers say they're willing to compromise--Roche, for instance, set up a local joint venture to turn out low-cost versions of several drugs--but officials say they won't go far enough. Obviously, the fight is far from over.

- read the ET story

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