GENEVA, April 8 India's Trade Minister Anand
Sharma said India would revoke drug patents if outbreaks of
serious diseases or pandemics made it necessary, defending a
Supreme Court ruling against Swiss drug firm Novartis.
India's top court dealt a blow to Western drugmakers on Apr.
1 when it threw out Novartis' bid to win patent protection for
cancer drug Glivec and set a benchmark for intellectual property
cases in a country where many patented drugs are unaffordable
for most of the population of 1.2 billion.
Speaking during a visit to the World Intellectual Property
Organization in Geneva, Sharma said the court decision was
"absolutely justified" under the intellectual property rules of
the World Trade Organization, known as the TRIPS agreement.
India's government had never exercised its executive right
to force a company to make its drugs available cheaply, but
reserved its right to do so, he said.
"What is good, to allow people to die or to make the
medicine available? That's the larger question," he said.
"So far it's in the realm of speculation, but it is a
flexibility that has been negotiated and integral into the TRIPS
"This is a flexibility that is granted to countries under
law," he said.
Developed countries had used the right to compulsory
licensing more than 160 times, including more than 63 times by
the executive route, he said, and there was no reason why
developing countries could not make affordable medicines
available in response to an epidemic or a life threatening
"I cannot be a fortune teller. I cannot decide for tomorrow
whether some new strain of avian flu will come or whether there
will be another pandemic that will require intervention of the
Novartis had "absolutely no reason to complain" to the
government because its case was not decided by the government
and the court had acted independently, he said.
He denied that the Glivec decision would affect research and
development investment into India.
"I don't see that it's going to be dissuading the
multinationals from investing in R&D," he said, adding that
India, as a source of so much intellectual property, had an
interest in protecting it.