India sticks with compulsory licensing, patent laws, but drug IP due for a change

India is not promising it will give up its right to require compulsory licenses or reject particular patents, but it is drafting legislation to make changes in the way it handles intellectual property rights for drugs, again.

It was only in the past decade that India made a major overhaul of its IP regulation under pressure from international companies complaining about India's habit of looking the other way as local outfits copied their products, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The new legislation is aimed at trimming the backlog of patent applications piling up and awaiting clearance by patent office lawyers unable to slog through hundreds of pages if minutiae required before granting a patent.

The lawyer shortage has led to a stack of more than 246,495 overall applications pending as of Nov. 1, the WSJ said.

The proposal would allow the government to hire hundreds of patent lawyers and researchers to speed the review process. That delay is enhanced by a similar shortage of help in the nation's courts trying to deal with cases concerned with generic-maker infringement.

Generics makers have been using the slow process to their advantage by knowingly infringing on a foreign company's IP rights while it awaited patent protection in India.

Multinational drugmakers would like the changes, but that is about all they get from the proposal, said Rajiv Aggarwal, joint secretary of India's Industrial Policy and Promotion Department in an interview with the WSJ.

What MNCs want more is an India IP system and policy that does not give heavy weight to the needs of its population in considering how much protection to provide.

That will not change, Aggarwal told the WSJ, and the government would continue to balance IPR with the ability of its 1.2 billion people to pay for the drugs they need.

Still, the newspaper cited Ranjana Smetacek, director general of The Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, which represents MNCs as well as local drugmakers, as saying, "The past year has seen a hopeful IP environment in India."

- here's the story in the Wall Street Journal