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January 12, 1999


Gene Campaign urges President to withhold consent to patent ordinance

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Gene Campaign, a non-governmental organisation, today urged the President to withhold his consent to the proposed ordinance to the Indian Patent Act and introduction of Exclusive Marketing Rights saying that the bill did not contain safeguards to protect the Indian consumer and the industry.

''The Patent Amendment Act is not in India's interest. Even the proponents of the bill concede that prices will go up. Pakistan which has introduced EMRs has been unable to control the rise of drug prices after the change. Their prices are five to 20 times higher than India's for the same drugs,'' Gene Campaign president Suman Sahai said in a letter to Dr K R Narayanan.

The letter said Pakistan's example should serve as a warning to India. "The worst casualty of higher drug prices would be our ability to provide health and veterninary care, causing still greater social and economic distress in rural areas," Sahai said.

Referring to the widespread speculation that the ordinance route had been proposed under American pressure, she wrote: ''It gains credence given the fact that we have enough time to debate the bill in the budget session and take a final decision before April 19 World Trade Organisation deadline.''

Apart from the blow to the Indian poor, unthinking changes in our intellectual property rights regimes would also severely erode the competitiveness of our drug industry. The recent legal attack by Glaxo on Ranbaxy's efforts to enter the US market for an ulcer drug called ranitidine had shown how multinationals could manipulate patent conditions to stop competitors from entering the market. A blanket EMR would make the situation much worse in Indian markets, Sahai said in the letter.

Introducing the current EMR bill also had other serious implications which had not been understood. This amendment would mean opening the doors for the patenting of living organisms like micro organisms because these form the basis of the new range of biopesticides and biofertilisers. These products which come under the category of 'agro-chemicals' would come under the purview of the current EMR bill and then under the purview of product patents.

''This would be a highly detrimental development. Once patents on micro-organisms, genes, cells and cell lines become part of Indian law, it will be very difficult to stop the patenting of the next series of life forms, that is plants and animals," she cautioned.

Gene Campaign pleaded that if the EMR bill had to be implemented, it should be debated on the floor of the Lok Sabha and certain minimal safeguards should be incorporated.

It argued that herbal drugs and products that are based on the indigenous knowledge of communities should be kept outside the purview of this bill.

"The knowledge of communities should be kept outside the purview of this bill. The knowledge developed and held by communities should remain theirs and not become the property of private companies. If we do not have this exclusion, patented products like the turmeric-based wound healing medicine that we had challenged in the US, could in fact be sold in India under an exclusive right.''

Life forms like micro-organisms, cells, cell lines, cell organelles should not be the subject of exclusive marketing rights or patents. Apart from the well-known objections, this exclusion would also be needed to keep out new undesirable developments like the termintor genes.


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