Indian court ruling in Novartis case protects India as the pharmacy of the developing world

On 6 August 2007 the Indian High Court in Chennai upheld India’s Patents Act in the face of the challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. In a press release the same day, Medecins sans Frontiers called this a major victory for patients’ access to affordable medicines in developing countries.

Novartis took the Indian government to court over its 2005 Patents Act because it wanted a more extensive granting of patent protection for its products than offered by the law. Novartis claimed that India’s Patents Act did not meet rules set down by the World Trade Organization and was in violation of the Indian constitution. Apparently all of Novartis’s claims have been rejected by the High Court today.

India only began giving patents on medicines to comply with WTO rules, but it designed its law with safeguards so that patents can only be granted for real innovations. This means that companies seeking a patent for modifications to a molecule already invented, in order to extend ever further their monopolies on existing drugs, would be unsuccessful in India.

It is this aspect of the law that Novartis was seeking to have removed. A ruling in favour of the company would have drastically restricted the production of affordable medicines in India that are crucial for the treatment of diseases throughout the developing world.

Over 420,000 people worldwide signed a petition requesting Novartis to drop the case because of the devastating impact Novartis’s actions could have on access to essential medicines.

Source: MSF press release

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