Lawsuit seeks to put India's Right-to-Information, Patent laws to the test

A public interest lawsuit in India has combined how details of patents are released to the public under a sunshine law that captures attention as a more up-to-date avenue of online disclosure of filing details for public scrutiny.

India's Financial Express said the Delhi High Court has sought the government's response on the lawsuit that wants strict disclosure of information from every patentee and licensee--and penalties for failure to comply.

The lawsuit, filed by lawyers led by Shamnad Basheer, well known for his SpicyIP (intellectual property) blog, have drug companies top of mind as prime candidates to disclose more under rules of the Patents Act of 1970, made more relevant under the Right-to-Information Act passed in 2005, the Financial Express reports.

SpicyIP founder Shamnad Basheer

In particular, Basheer wants the format of Form-27 updated to jibe with the times. In the lawsuit, he notes that multinational drug firms escape many of the disclosure rules because of the cumbersome filing and disclosure process.

"The inaction by the authorities enables patentees to escape public scrutiny of their efforts in working their patents, thereby causing prejudice to the social bargain underlying the patent system and undermining its very objective," he told the Financial Express, adding that makes it more "difficult to trigger the compulsory licensing and revocation provisions, consequently impacting the public at large by denying them potentially cheaper and more accessible products and services, particularly affordable medications."

The lawsuit seeks a committee to review and suggest reforms on disclosure and to establish a "comprehensive online filing services for patents" to enable patentees and licensees to submit full and complete working information, the Financial Express said.

"In addition, it has requested for a direction to publish and upload the entire information relating to commercial working of all patents for all years of operation of the patent on their website," the Financial Express said, citing the lawsuit.

India is under pressure from a host of countries on IP disputes related to pharmaceuticals.

Of particular concern is the use of Section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act (1970), which has been used by the Indian Patent Office to deny patents on cancer drug Glivec/Gleevec from Swiss-based Novartis ($NVS), among others.

But there is also support for India in holding tough line on patents. In August, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in an interview that he wants India to hang tough on IP challenges for pharmaceuticals because the country's role as a major supplier of affordable medicines needs to be lauded, not scolded.

Civil society groups have also highlighted such pressure in access campaigns.

For example, Gilead ($GILD) earlier this year negotiated to expand market access for the drug Sovaldi, which is priced at around $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week course, in the U.S. Gilead agreed to slash the cost to $300 a bottle, or roughly $10 per pill, through manufacturing and sales licenses that would cover India and many emerging markets at similar costs.

But there were notable exclusions from the deal, including some large emerging markets with high hepatitis C infection rates such as China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine.

- here's the story from the Financial Express