ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Larger Implications of the Novartis Glivec Judgment

The Supreme Court judgment on the Novartis-Glivec case is remarkable because it has gone beyond the specific technical and legal issues surrounding patents and has put the matter in a much larger political and economic perspective. The deeper implication of the judgment is that it is not only justified to deny patents when incremental innovation is trivial as in the Glivec case. The judgment has linked the entire question of patenting with net benefits to society and has highlighted the relevance of specific conditions of a country for deciding the appropriate patent regime. What the judgment says and what it implies has tremendous significance for the patent regimes in developing countries beyond the secondary patenting issues.

The Supreme Court of India has recently rejected the plea of Novartis for patent protection for its anti-cancer drug sold in the name of Glivec or Gleevec. The judgment has evoked extreme reactions. While some have greeted it as a landmark judgment which will make medicines more affordable, others have condemned it as harmful for innovation and foreign investment. We will analyse here some of the implications of the judgment.

Patent laws are national laws. With no restrictions before the introduction of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organisation in 1995, India abolished product patent protection in drugs (and food) in 1972. Even under TRIPS, though product patents are mandatory, countries have some flexibilities to frame their own patent laws to suit their national interests. Thus legally and legitimately, what is patentable in India may not be so in other countries as we will see below.

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