India's patenting criteria receive both global censure as well as appreciation for their exclusion of incremental inventions of little curative value. But the country doesn’t appear too stingy in granting these exclusive rights. A cursory look at the database reveals little difference between Big Pharma and homegrown companies on their patent strategies, after the country embraced product patenting in the pharmaceutical sector in 2005.
Of course, some like Swiss major Novartis appear to have been less choosy than others when it comes to patent filings in India, while a few others — notably US major Pfizer — have recorded much better success rates in securing patents in India due to their selective approach.
Novartis, it may be recalled, was in the eye of a storm over the stout defence of patent protection to its cancer drug Glivec and the Supreme Court’s subsequent denial of the right in a landmark ruling in April. The court refused patent protection to Glivec on the grounds of the substance in question being an amended version of a known compound, failing to pass the scrutiny of Section 3(d) of India’s Patents Act. For the record, Pfizer’s cancer drug Sutent also lost patent protection in India last year.
The Indian government claims that Section 3(d) is compliant with the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), a view more or less endorsed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Curiously, domestic drug-maker Cipla, an ardent votary of generic medicines and known for supplying an AIDS drugs cocktail to patients in Africa and elsewhere at a fraction of the innovator prices, is also a patent-seeker like any other large Indian company. To be fair, Cipla founder-chairman Yusuf Hamied has not denounced the concept of patents but only argued for generic producers getting the right to break patents by paying what he considers reasonable royalty to the patent-holder in case of national emergencies or other public health exigencies.
Novartis has applied for 1,435 patents in India since 1995, out of which only 267 were granted, a success rate of 19%, which is below par. Pfizer, however, has the distinction of getting the most number of patent applications approved. With 675 patents issued out of 1,402 applications (a success rate of 48%), it is quite ahead of its closest competitor Roche Holding with a success rate of 42%. Others, whether Indian or foreign,