WTO as Protector of Indian Interest

After the creation of the WTO in 1995, there were speculations that India might not benefit from its participation in the international forum. WTO, at that time, was seen as an instrument of the US to further its interest. US' patent rules and regulations could ruin the Indian agriculture and pharmaceutical industry. However, contrary to the expectations, all have been good under the aegis of WTO. Today, WTO stand as India's greatest ally against US pressure on patents.

US pharmaceutical companies have been complaining that Indian patent regime is unfavourable to the US companies, like Novartis, as it does not recognise the patents on certain products. This, US consider, amounts to an infringement of the established norms on intellectual property rights (IPR), and thus producing Indian manufacturers in an advantageous position.

Indian manufacturer, by producing generic versions of patent products, are able to take-away the customers of big companies. That is why, US companies want the US International Trade Commission to investigate India’s treatment of IPR, and recommend sanctions under the Section 301 of US Trade laws.

India has clearly refused to cooperate with the US regulations. Indian argument, in the matter, is that, the WTO regulations provide for all members to settle patent disputes through unilateral action, and that India is confident that its Patent rules are in conformity to the WTO protocols. Thus, US is also trying to avoid approaching WTO, and instead mounting bilateral pressure.

In reality, Indian patent laws are much more restrictive than those of US or Europe. However, WTO rules allow such an arrangement. These rules allow India considerable freedom to be strict on patents, allow price controls and forced issue of compulsory licenses for drugs of critical importance.

Foreign companies argue that India rejects patents. However, Indian side has responded by arguing that since 2005, more than 4000 drug patents have been given (mainly to US companies), as against only one compulsory license. This is in conformity to the WTO norms.

The matter is unlikely to go to the WTO, as India might also claim that US courts have rejected many patent pleas from Indian companies. US also uses the provision of compulsory licensing and price control for certain drugs.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that some NGOs demand the wholesale scrapping of patents over medicinal drugs, as it would make the medicines cheaper and accessible. However, it is not possible to implement, as it would be a violation of the WTO norms.

As for the IPR regime, India is placed in the bottom 25% countries, in ranking of IPR Protections. Piracy and infringement of copyright is a major problem in India.

US is trying to break deals with the European Union and the other countries, to create a regime, better suited to its interest. However, such regimes would have more stricter IPR rules. India should protect its interest, by being more pro-active at the WTO.

Courtesy: Times of India

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