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`New patent regime will not hike drug prices'

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JAN. 5 . The Government today maintained that the new patent regime would not push up drug prices and noted that items such as seeds and traditional knowledge were out of its purview.

"The impact on prices will be minimal. Drug prices will not go up, as 97 per cent of the drugs are off patent,'' the Union Industry Secretary, Ashok Jha, told correspondents today.

In line with its World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations, India promulgated an ordinance to adopt the product patent regime from January 1 for food, drugs and chemicals and embedded software.

Only three per cent of the drugs were covered under the new patent regime and almost all of them had alternatives, Mr. Jha said, adding that product patent would help the Indian pharmaceutical industry, which has made large investments in research.

Lowest in world

Also, checks and balances and safeguards, such as compulsory licensing would ensure that drugs were available at affordable prices, Mr. Jha said. Indian drug prices were the lowest in the world and studies had shown that— except for normal inflation — the prices had not gone up significantly since the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) regime came into being in 1995. "Price rise and patents have no correlation,'' Mr. Jha said. Any price threat was "imaginary" as several old drugs would go off the patents list while some new drugs were patented. Also, there were only 350 essential drugs and none of them was patented.

Consultations

Several rounds of consultations had taken place before the ordinance was promulgated, Mr. Jha said.

About the Mashelkar Committee report, he said it was being "selectively quoted'' to say there were no adequate safeguards in the patent regime to check spurious drugs from flooding the market. It was not the patent law but the poor quality that threatened the smaller units. Quality was a separate issue.

With the Act coming into effect, the process of grant of product patents would start rolling with the opening of the "mailbox" where applications had been put in since 1995. There were about 12,000 applications in the mailbox and it would take about three to four months to go them.

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