Letter from Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International to the Indian Prime Minister and other top Indian Government officials on the Patents Act

Prime Minister
Chair, National Advisory Council,
Minister of Commerce
Minister of Health
Minister of Petroleum

March 15, 2005

The Prime Minister of India
South Block
New Delhi

Sub: Amendment to the forthcoming Patent Act

Dear Dr Manmohan Singhji,

As a relief and development organisation working in India and throughout the developing world, Oxfam is writing this open letter to ask your government to ensure that the forthcoming Patent Act amendment permits the fullest possible access to affordable medicines.

As part of our Make Trade Fair campaign, we have pressed for global patent law reform in order to reduce the cost of medicines. We have worked in collaboration with India's delegation to the WTO over the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, and more recently over the agriculture talks. We have been impressed by the firm pro-development stance India has taken and continues to take in all these multilateral negotiations.

In our view, the provisions of the temporary Ordinance upon which the amendment will be based have not used the full flexibilities that are available in TRIPS and will, therefore, limit the supply of affordable medicines As you are aware, India exports two-thirds of its pharmaceutical production, supplying many of the generic drugs consumed in the poorer countries. India is renowned for having brought the possibility of treatment to millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS by manufacturing low-cost anti-retrovirals. If India now extends the scope of pharmaceutical product patenting beyond the minimum required by TRIPS, and restricts its capacity to override a patent, it will limit its ability to produce affordable versions of new life-saving treatments both for Indian citizens and the developing world.

There are a number of ways in which we believe the Ordinance can be improved. Firstly, the law could allow challenges to patent applications in order to prevent patents being wrongly granted. Secondly, it could ensure that patents are only granted for genuinely new medicines and not for new formulations or second uses of existing medicines. Thirdly, the law could streamline and simplify procedures for overriding a patent, not least because this gives government greater bargaining power when negotiating with pharmaceutical companies over prices. Fourthly, the rules for exporting generic versions of patented drugs could also be made much simpler (e.g by using the provision for exceptions in TRIPS Article 30). This is essential if countries without manufacturing capacity, such as many of those in Africa, are to access affordable treatment.

Mrs Indira Gandhi once wrote that 'a better ordered world is one in which medical discoveries would be free of patents and there would be no profiteering from life or death'. While this is not possible under the current WTO rules, we hope that the Government of India will nevertheless seek to ensure that the interests of people who are sick and dying throughout the developing world will be paramount in the important decisions it is about to take. Oxfam and many other civil society organisations, along with developing-country governments and the more enlightened industrialised countries, will provide solid support to India in this endeavour.

Yours Sincerely,

Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International

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