The US government has, for decades, been complaining about India’s patent laws being out of sync with global practices and has, even at the height of bonhomie between the two nations, kept India in its IPR watch-list for this very reason. While the UPA government’s decision to award a compulsory license (CL) for Bayer’s Nexavar could have been avoided and the industry ministry has tried to stop more such CLs in the present regime, the official position so far has been that India’s patent protection is in keeping with WTO norms and aimed at preventing the ever-greening of patents that MNC pharma firms indulge in. So it has to come as a big surprise to hear prime minister Narendra Modi talk of, at India’s first Global Exhibition on Services, a new IPR regime that is on a par with global standards. Global standards, of course, are not just about patents, they are about data exclusivity which several Indian pharma firms have also been demanding; and they are about trying to eliminate piracy which is a big thing in the software and entertainment industry. India’s extension of price controls on pharmaceuticals, at a very basic level, also goes against the principle of strong IPR laws. It would be interesting to see how far the prime minister intends to go on this.
Equally heartening was the prime minister’s call to make India a centre for global arbitration and to allow foreign lawyers to practice in India, the latter put off all these years due to the lobby of domestic lawyers. Whether India will become a global arbitration centre will depend upon a lot of things, but it is clear it cannot happen if India remains as tardy as it is today about enforcing foreign arbitration awards. Indeed, as recent events show, the government has been delaying arbitration for years at a stretch—once again that augurs poorly for the future. While the prime minister is obviously serious about the new avatar of Served-from-India, he needs to show some proof of his intent, and quickly.