By Dann Okoth
Medical relief organisations and civil society groups have launched a campaign to compel a Swiss company to drop a case lodged in the Indian Supreme Court seeking an overhaul of the country’s patent laws and putting a cap in the production of essential generic medicines.
Medicines San Frontieres’ (doctors without borders) has launched the “Drop the Case” campaign aimed at rallying world leaders and international organisations to rally the Swiss based Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation to drop the case whose outcome could put millions of lives at risk around the world by snuffing access to affordable life-saving medicines.
Health Global Access Project (GAP) Kenya, a lobby group advocating for access to HIV treatment, has also said it will protest against the case at the International Aids Conference in Washington DC this week.
In 2006, Novartis took the Indian government to court over its patent law, in a move that threatened access to affordable medicines produced in India for millions of people across the developing world. The company wanted to get the law changed so that they could more easily extend the patents on their products, and stop generic companies producing the same medicines at a fraction of the price.
MSF’s Drop the Case campaign, launched in response to this move, gathered nearly half a million signatures calling on the company to drop its case.
Nearly half a million people signed the “Drop the Case” petition, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss. The campaign resulted in extensive media coverage and increased public awareness of the role of India as ‘pharmacy of the developing world’. While the company never dropped its case, the Madras High Court in August 2007 ruled against Novartis.
Undeterred, the company has continued to appeal against each legal reversal, with the result that India’s final court – the Supreme Court – is now due to hear the case.
Section 3(d) of the India’s Constitution, which the company wants annulled, is allowed under international trade rules – which requires that patents should only be granted on medicines that are truly inventive.
The patent office is stricter while examining applications on improvements and new forms of known medicines and such applications are not usually granted unless patent applications can prove significantly improved ‘therapeutic efficacy’.