Novartis case enters Indian Supreme court

Rebecca McDowall, HIV i-Base 

The long running Novartis legal challenge to India’s patent law entered the Supreme Court in New Delhi, on September 11. 

This is a final bid by the company in a six-year attempt to undermine India’s pro public health patent laws, and has been met by protests across the world.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has been engaged in a legal battle over a part of India’s patent law (known as Section 3d) which says that a new form of a known medicine can only be patented if it shows significantly improved therapeutic efficacy over existing compounds; this is a provision to stop the common industry practice of extending, or ‘evergreening,’ their patent monopolies for routine modifications of known compounds.

Section 3d, which is in line with international trade rules, formed the basis for Novartis not being granted a patent for its cancer drug imatinib mesylate (marketed as Gleevec) in 2006. Novartis’ patent application was on a new form of the imatinib molecule already described several years previously in patents in the US and other developed countries.

MSF flashmob brings Novartis protest to Geneva

On Wednesday 19 September, at noon, 200 people froze in the streets of Geneva to protest against Novartis. The group included an ambulance, removing a patient on a stretcher, emphasising the potential impact for access to healthcare from the case. “If Novartis wins, everything stops. Millions of people around the world will no longer have access to affordable medicine. We therefore urge Novartis to drop the case in India”. (MSF protestor) [2]

Act-Up Paris protesters arrested outside of Novartis

In order to coincide with the start of the trial, Act-Up Paris activists gathered at Novartis HQ in order to deliver a petition of 18,000 signatories condemning the case, which led to the entire group being arrested. The activists were detained separately for 48 hours whilst being prevented from accessing medical care, basic hygiene facilities, lawyers or phone calls. One HIV positive activist was denied access to HIV treatment for the duration of his detention. [3]

Stop AIDS Campaign demands Novartis drops the case

The UK based Stop AIDS Campaign held protests outside the Swiss Embassy and Novartis’ UK offices. Lotti Rutter, from the Stop AIDS Campaign said: “This case is about a cancer drug, but the result will have a much wider impact on the health of poor people all around the world. If they win, the change will make it easier for drug companies to get unjustifiable extensions to their monopolies, and make it more difficult for generic companies to produce and sell the affordable generic medicines health care providers across the developing world rely on.” [4]


  1. MSF press release. Novartis’ six-year legal challenge against India’s pro-health patent law heads to Supreme Court (11 September 2012)
  2. MSF Geneva video. STOP NOVARTIS: Flashmob in Geneva (20 September 2012).
  3. Act Up-Paris press release. Un ressortissant français, détenu en Suisse, privé de médicaments contre le sida pendant 48 heures (14 September 2012).
  4. Stop AIDS Campaign press release. Novartis: stop strangling the supply of affordable medicines from India (19 September 2012).

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