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Archived updates for Wednesday, March 23, 2005

India Product Patent Bill Moves Forward

India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, passed a patents bill on Tuesday making it illegal to copy patented drugs, a practice that has made cheaper medicines available in India and abroad. The bill, which is expected to become law once it is approved by the Rajya Sabha council of states, also covers other products such as chemicals, mobile phones and computers.

According to the Asia Times, the Patents (Amendment) Bill, 2005, introduces product patents in pharmaceuticals, food and agrochemicals - the three sectors where the process could be patented but not the product. The bill was passed after 13 amendments, many of them suggested by leftist parties, and agreed to by the government in order to bring that powerful political bloc on board.

International aid groups have strongly criticised the legislation as being harmful to developing countries which depend on inexpensive generic drugs imported from India. But the government has said that patent recognition is an essential pre-condition for India's drug industry to further its own drug research and development and attract foreign partners.

India's pharmaceutical industry is now the fourth-largest in the world in terms of volume, with exports reaching an estimated 200 countries globally. However, developed countries had complained to the World Trade Organization that this success was achieved largely by unfairly refusing to allow the patenting of pharmaceutical products, and India was obliged to provide product patents in these sectors starting January 1, 2005. The government met the deadline by issuing a temporary ordinance in December which is to be replaced by the new legislation.
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