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National Conference on TRIPs-Next Agenda for Developing Countries, Hyderabad

Abstract India’s Patent Policy and Negotiations in TRIPs:
Future Options for India and other Developing Countries

Dr. Anitha Ramanna

         It is an opportune moment for India and other developing countries to review and consolidate their strategies on intellectual property rights in the WTO. Recent developments relating to TRIPs have witnessed some important gains for developing countries. In the Doha WTO Ministerial, developing countries were able to ensure that a Declaration on TRIPs and Public Health was passed. In 2001 within the FAO, countries agreed on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that aims to promote access to crops important for food security and transfer of benefits from the commercialisation of crops back to farmers. Within and outside the WTO, there is a greater acceptance that TRIPs must be implemented in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and that the importance of traditional knowledge should be recognized. These developments provide the momentum upon which developing countries can build future strategies.

            India’s domestic policy and international negotiations on one aspect of IPRs, patents, provides important lessons for formulating a comprehensive negotiating strategy on TRIPs. A study of India’s patent policy is significant as patents are not only the most controversial aspects of TRIPs, but also have relevance for other aspects of IPRs. India was one of the foremost opponents of raising patent standards, and continued to resist implementation on patents even after signing the WTO. Recently, India has begun to revise its patent policy and is no longer negotiating from a position of opposition within TRIPs. India has shifted its policy towards a more pro-patent stance and is negotiating to ensure that its interests are protected through extension of geographical indications, compulsory licensing, and implementation of the CBD.

          A study of the reasons for India’s policy shift, a review of India’s gains and losses from international negotiations, and an analysis of India’s current position in the field of patents can lay the framework for evolving new agendas. Qualitative data on India’s policy changes and negotiations, and quantitative data on patent applications by Indian firms and institutions provide important indicators for building future strategies. Firstly, India’s policy shift on patents was influenced by bilateral trade pressure, but took place only when a domestic constituency emerged within India that supported patent reform. The interests of domestic actors are a crucial factor in promoting policy change and developing countries must channelize the interests of powerful industry groups, research institutions, and other actors towards evolving international positions. Secondly, a significant rise in patent applications from the 1994-95 period has taken place in India, but in the short-term, it appears that few domestic actors would be able to take advantage of the new scenario while a majority of actors may not. In evaluating the capability of securing gains from IPRs, developing countries must realize that in the short-term at least, only a few domestic actors could quickly transform their potential into patent activity. Policy and negotiating stances must then focus on ensuring access to resources for the majority that would be left behind in the new scenario. Thirdly, India has been able to make headway in international negotiations when combining forces with other influential developing and developed countries. Coalitions between countries with similar interests are crucial for promoting change. Finally, NGOs have played an important role in promoting India’s policy and negotiating stance. India and other developing countries must build links with groups likely to be affected by TRIPs and utilize their influence internationally to promote their interests.

India and other developing countries must seize the moment, and evolve far-reaching strategies on IPRs. This study based both on a qualitative and a quantitative assessment of India’s experience with patents, aims to outline policy options for India and other developing countries in future WTO negotiations.
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