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Consider compulsory license for Covid-19 vaccine, laws for IP financing, piracy: Panel to govt

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The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has suggested the government to consider temporarily waiving patents rights and issuing Compulsory Licenses to tackle the inadequacy in availability and accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines and drugs, encourage voluntary licensing to share Covid-19 technology to other producers and manufacturers, and technology transfers to manufacturers once the trials of medicines or vaccines are completed.

“The Committee is of the opinion that although a careful stance is needed to be adopted in issuance of Compulsory License on a patent, it could, however, be considered in case of production of medicines and vaccines for the treatment of Covid-19 since the pandemic has led to a national health emergency in India,” the panel said in its report on the ‘Review of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Regime in India’.

Noting that the generic production in large quantities without any obligation of patents would help in removal of supply constraints in availability of affordable drugs, medicines and vaccines at times of high case load and death toll due to Covid-19, it said: “The government should delve into the prospect of temporarily wavering patents rights and issuing Compulsory Licensing to tackle the inadequacy in availability and accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines and drugs during an emergency like situation induced by the pandemic”.

The panel also suggested the government to undertake a holistic review of IPR policy at the earliest and promulgate a specific law on IP financing to provide a concrete framework and determine standards for the protection and promotion of IP backed financing in India.

“It also urges the government to explore plausible ways to devise a uniform system of valuation of IP as an intangible asset in the country which would ensure a better evaluation of assets by financial institutions,” the committee said, adding that a mechanism also needs to be put in place to recognize and appoint IP evaluators in the country.

Re-establishment of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), inclusion of Artificial Intelligence and AI-related inventions in the ambit of the Patents Act and Copyrights Act, and a specific legislation to curb counterfeiting and piracy are the other suggestions.

“ It strongly recommends that the government, before scrapping of significant tribunals through an ordinance, should undertake a Judicial Impact Assessment along with wide consultations,” the panel said.

Patent points
Emphasising that individuals, communities and manufacturers exhibiting traditional knowledge and indigenous inventions in their creations should not be bereft of benefits or royalties due to their exclusion from IPR regime, it recommended the government to review Section 3(p) of the Patents Act for including traditional knowledge of these entities under patents ensuring growth of an inclusive IPR regime in India.

“The committee notes with concern that a major share of 64% of the patents filed in India are by non-resident or foreign entities wherein the patents filed by domestic entities occupies a portion of only 36%,” it said.

The panel asked the government to conduct a “thorough analysis” on approving the patents on plants and seeds favourable to agriculture sector of the country with a pre-condition of making government of India as a participant in the patent and hold “proper discussions and wide consultations with farmers groups/ associations and necessary stakeholders” to examine the plausibility of allowing the patents on plants and seeds that yields benefits to the farmers of the country.

Further, it said that the timeline of four years to file an examination report by the patent applicant is too extensive and suggested the department to shorten it to a “reasonable time frame to avoid any unnecessary delay in examination and grants of patents”.

As per the report, a 1% improvement in protection of trademark, patent and copyright increases FDI by 3.8%, 2.8% and 6.8%, respectively.

The committee said it is “distressed” to note that in 2019, only 24,936 patents were granted in India which is “considerably low” as compared to 3,54,430 and 4,52,804 patents granted in US and China respectively.

“Also, the rate of increase in number of patents in India in the last four years has not been very impressive compared to that seen in US and China,” the committee said, adding that it is a matter of concern that less filing and grants of patents in India is co-related to a microscopic spending on Research and Development activities which is a meager 0.7% of India’s GDP.

It advised the government to explore opportunities in establishing Patent Protection Highways (PPH) with other nations to expedite and process patent applications. However, it recommended that before venturing on PPH programmes with other countries, impact assessment of the Japan PPH model may be made.

Moreover, the marking of products as ‘patent pending’ would empower the patentee by acting as a deterrent to IP crimes of unauthorized copying or counterfeiting of products and avoiding unnecessary infringements, according to the report.

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