Has PM Modi bowed to US pressure on patent laws?
A file photo of Narendra Modi with Barack Obama. A paragraph in the US-India joint statement which talks of establishing an Intellectual Property working group has left health activists across the world apprehensive.
RELATEDA paragraph buried in the US-Ind
According to the US-India joint statement, the leaders agreed on the need to foster innovation in a manner that promoted economic growth and job creation. “The leaders committed to establish an annual high-level Intellectual Property (IP) working group with appropriate decision-making and technical-level meetings as part of the Trade Policy Forum,” the joint statement said.

“The US consistently advances higher intellectual property protections through its trade working groups and trade partnership groups. It is significant that this sentence is embedded in the section on economic growth and increasing foreign direct investment, as US IP industries and the United State Trade Representative (USTR) promote heightened intellectual property rights and strengthened enforcement mechanisms as being key to investor confidence and ultimately to innovation itself,” pointed out Prof Brook Baker of the Northeastern University School of Law. He further cautioned that the working group would give the US a dedicated forum to continue to pressure India to adopt tougher patent protection measures.

“The US, in particular, will work to eliminate local working requirements that India is seeking to use to promote its own technological development. The fact that this working group will have ‘decision-making’ powers is particularly problematic as it places the US fox in the Indian chicken coop,” said Prof Baker.

“The United States likes to set up formal mechanisms to deliver superpower pressure on behalf of K Street lobbyists who pay for campaigns by US politicians. Patient groups in India should indeed be concerned about this committee. It is very clearly going to be used to pressure India to expand liberal grants of drug patents in India, and to block or restrain the use of compulsory licenses on drug patents,” said Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), an NGO that works on issues related to the effects of intellectual property on public health and access to medicines. He also pointed out that President Obama, Vice President Biden, a couple of Secretaries of Commerce, a Secretary of State (or two) and Michael Froman at USTR all personally intervened in India following the compulsory license on Bayer’s $65,000 drug for liver and kidney cancer.

In September, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman had stated that India would review its positions on intellectual property rights (IPRs) and that since India does not have an IPR policy the government would come out with an IPR policy for the first time. Health activists pointed out that it was not true India had no IPR policy and that the current Indian IP legal regime represented the policy framework on IPRs which was adopted after considerable debate inside and outside Parliament. They expressed concern that India was bending to US pressure on patents.

On the eve of the PM’s US visit, civil society groups had demanded that the Indian government should not carry out any amendment to the Indian Patents Act to increase patent protection. “We strongly urge the government to proactively use the flexibilities in the Patents Act such as government use and compulsory license. In fact, smaller developing countries, with much less bargaining power, have issued more compulsory licenses than just the one that India has granted,” they had said.