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Down to Earth Senior Editor Latha Jishnu explains how compulsory licenses can help revive India's generic drug market.
Jennifer Saavedra: I'm here with Senior Editor Latha Jishnu and we're gong to talk to her about her latest column on compulsory licenses. Hi, Latha.
Latha Jishnu: Hi, Jennifer.
JS: So, first explain what a compulsory license is.
LJ: A compulsory license is a license in which the government allows a
third party, which is somebody other than the patent holder, to produce
and market a patented product or a process without the consent of the
patent owner. Now, governments usual invoke a compulsory license –
sometimes it could be in the case of a public health crisis like there's an
AIDS epidemic and there isn't enough medicine to meet this scourge.
JS: So if there is a patent on, let’s say an AIDS medication, but there's a need for it here to save the lives of X amount of people in India, then the government can issue a compulsory license and then that drug can be manufactured without patent consent?
LJ: Yes. But, India has never issued a compulsory license so far, although other countries like Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia and, of course, the developed countries like US, UK Canada, Italy and all have done so.
JS: So then how come all of a sudden the Indian government sees the
need to discuss compulsory licenses?
LJ: I think there are various reasons. One is that suddenly they are waking
up to the fact that more stuff made in generic companies are now in
foreign hands, at least half a dozen have been bought-up by foreign
companies and these are all major mutli-nationals. So I think there is a
growing awareness that in India the domestic pharmaceutical industry
might soon be wiped out, so they are discussing various issues. One is
how do we strengthen the competition law and how do we look at
mergers and acquisitions so that India’s generic industry is protected from
monopolistic control and another is this compulsory licenses because we
have never used it and they want everybody's views on this.
Compulsory licenses are allowed to all countries under the World
Trade Organization rules, under the rules which govern intellectual
property. This is called TRIPPS. So, what the WTO has done is that under
the public health concerns, which were formulated in Doha, they said you
can have compulsory licenses. There are lots of exceptions which are
given to developing countries to protect public health concerns.