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Lok Sabha passes Patents Bill amid walkout

Wednesday 23 March 2005

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 22. Even as the Opposition staged a walkout, the Lok Sabha today passed the third Patents (Amendments) Bill 2005. This will meet the country’s obligation to usher in a new product patents regime under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement of the World Trade Organisation. The Bill was passed after the Commerce and Industry Minister, Kamal Nath, assured the House that "all safeguards" had been built into the legislation to protect the interests of the Indian pharmaceutical industry and prevent an inordinate rise in prices.

Members belonging to the Opposition National Democratic Alliance walked out protesting against the Government’s failure to refer the Bill to a parliamentary standing committee. The Left parties, however, supported the Bill after most amendments suggested by them were incorporated into it. Two other amendments have been referred to an expert committee.

Replying to the debate, Mr. Kamal Nath said the Bill which replaced an ordinance promulgated on December 23 to meet WTO obligations, would be further amended if the expert committee felt that more flexibility or safeguards were required on issues relating to new chemical entities and micro-organisms. The Bill provides for product patents in drugs, agricultural products and embedded software.

Critical issues addressed

He said that certain critical issues raised by members had been dealt with in the legislation. For instance, in the case of compulsory licensing, there was a provision to revoke the patent in the public interest. Similarly, on the question of "evergreening" where the discovery of new properties for the existing drugs was concerned, new patents would not be allowed. He gave the example of aspirin which was earlier considered only as a painkiller but was now used as a blood thinning agent.

On the protection of traditional knowledge, he said that plants were completely out of the purview of the legislation.

As for pre-grant opposition, he said this was not there in the original legislation drafted by the NDA Government but had now been included in this Bill. Despite this inclusion, he said, the BJP was "lecturing" him about the need for tightening the provision. In fact, India was one of the few countries which had both pre-grant and post-grant opposition to patents.

In response to persistent demands from Opposition members for referring the Bill to a parliamentary standing committee, he said a Joint Parliamentary Committee had already deliberated on the Bill for two years and differences should, therefore, have been resolved by now.

Why haste?

Bachi Singh Rawat, who initiated the debate on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party and his party colleague, Uday Singh, highlighted the fact that already the grant of exclusive marketing rights to a Swiss pharmaceutical company had led to a phenomenal rise in the prices of anti-cancer drugs.

They also questioned the haste with which the Bill was being passed, and the fact that it was actually going beyond the commitments needed to be made under the TRIPs agreement.

Maneka Gandhi (BJP) agreed that the original Bill drafted by the NDA Government was a "bad law" and, therefore, not defensible. Pointing to the need for avoiding `evergreening’ of patents, she urged that it be considered by a Standing Committee, as a badly drafted Bill was worse than no Bill at all.

Pawan Kumar Bansal (Congress) said that not a single amendment had been suggested by the BJP even though the Government had held extensive discussions with all political parties. He described the new legislation as the need of the hour and that it would not have any adverse impact on drug prices.

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