Will US-imposed IP Empire in India Put Global Access to Medicines at Risk?

Prof Brook K Baker, Professor of Law at Northeastern University, cautions that the Modi government’s accelerating flirtation with the US and its investors is dangerous to hundreds of millions of people worldwide whose lives depend on Indian generics.

January 26 was a bad day for people around the world who rely on Indian generic companies for access to affordable medicines of assured quality. In the 19th century, the British Empire imposed a patent regime on India designed to guarantee monopoly access to its inventors and industries. In the 21st century, the US Empire is attempting the same, and there are troubling signs that the new government, led by Prime Minister Modi, might fail to resist the IP takeover.

As widely reported in the news, President Obama recently completed a three-day visit to India. Although the photo highlights are about leaderships hugs, strolls through palatial government facilities, and Obama chewing gum at the Republic Day Parade, the real world background has been unrelenting US pressure against the Indian patent regime in the form of priority IP watch list status in successive Special 301 Watch Lists, a USTR out-of-cycle review of India’s IP and enforcement policies, multiple US Congressional hearings, two investigations by the US International Trade Commission, and countless visits by US dignitaries acting as spokesmen for Big Pharma’s monopoly interests.

During Obama’s visit, PM Modi addressed multinational business moguls at the India-US CEO Forum and later at the US-India Business Summit where Obama was also present. During the CEO Forum, Modi reassured business billionaires, “You will find a climate that encourages investment and rewards enterprise; it will nurture innovation and protect your intellectual property.”

At the Business Council, he said, “India is ready to accept suggestions made by a joint working group with the US on intellectual property rights.” Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the media after her meeting with the US Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker that, “We have invited the Americans to look at the draft policy (on IPR) and give their inputs. We will then see what we can do with it.” Given these direct avenues to reforming India’s IP regime, President Obama clarified the US’s intentions: “We need to incentivise trade rather than stifle it. We need to be transparent, consistent and protective of intellectual property rights.”

The joint working group on IP that PM Modi referred to was established last year at the conclusion of Modi’s state visit to the US as part of the India-United States Trade Policy Forum. At that time, USTR Michael Forman said that it is “in India’s interest to have and enforce a world-class intellectual property rights regime.” He then listed patents, trade secrets, and compulsory licensing as being challenging issues from the US’s perspective, arguing that India must deal with them directly if it is to play a leadership role in the knowledge economy…

Read the rest of the article in the Financial Express.

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