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4-Patents: India complies with WTO ruling on TRIPs

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BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest
Vol.3, Number 10, 15 March, 1999

India's Parliament last week approved a patent regime bringing the 
country into compliance with a 1998 WTO ruling. The Parliament vote 
upholds an executive ordinance regarding intellectual property protection 
put forward in January (See BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest Vol 3, No 1 
& 2: 18 January 1999). The regime establishes a mailbox system and 
exclusive marketing rights in compliance with the WTO ruling. The 
ordinance does amend the 1970 Patents Act to include product patents as 
well as process
patents, but does not go as far as to include patent requirements on 
iterations of products.

Multinational pharmaceutical companies are especially keen for India to 
push through a strict product patent regime, calling such a regime key to 
future investment there. A product patent regime would include patents on 
iterations of products-- meaning a company could replicate a product with 
minor manufacturing variations. Domestic drug companies and consumer 
groups warn that a strict product patent regime could result in higher 
costs for medications in India. Sikander Bakht, Minister of Industry, 
said last week that India would "not bring product patents before 2005."

Meanwhile, divisions are growing within India over the use of genetically 
modified (GMO) cotton seed. The Delhi-based Research Foundation for 
Science, Technology and Ecology has filed suit against Monsanto (producer 
of Bollgard cotton, a strain genetically engineered to resist bollworm 
infestation) and the Indian government, alleging that current Bollgard 
field trials in India are illegal. The suit alleges that Monsanto 
violated existing biosafety laws by not securing the proper permission to 
plant Bollgard.

The suit calls for a five-year moratorium on GMOs, to allow time to 
evaluate the safety of GMO products in the environment. Monsanto 
officials commented that it "would be a sad day for India" if a 
moratorium were imposed. Monsanto and GMO supporters inside India argue 
that products like Bollgard would help India increase agricultural 
production and in turn boost India's economic growth. Indian agricultural 
agencies are also working on GMO products for the Indian market.

However, skeptics note that without improvements to basic agricultural 
elements, GMO products will be of little value to poor Indian farmers. 
"They should have irrigation, power and fertilizer- even if you are going 
to give them Bollgard, it's not going to raise productivity," according 
to food policy analyst Devinder Sharma.

 "India complies on patents laws," FINANCIAL TIMES, 11 March 1999.
 "India says it will let the market decide," FINANCIAL TIMES, 9 March

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