IP Battles in India
Conflicts around Indian Intellectual Property policies abound as the country adjusts to WTO / TRIPS requirements. With its Indian partners, World-Information.Org is preparing a program at Bangalore.
In the 1990s, Indian researchers were at the forefront of a radical critique of western ideas of intellectual property. Researchers and activists such as Vandana Shiva have generated an awareness of biopiracy and endangered biodiversity across the globe. In the meantime, the expansion of global networks and the fusion of standardized IP regimes and technologies has provided new challenges to critical IP research and policies.
One drastic example of the integration of IP policies, interests of global players and new technologies is the "3rd Patent Bill Amendment" decreed by the Indian government just before the end of the year. The governmental ordinance was passed on the day of the Tsunami disaster, 26 December, 2005. By barring the poor from access to live-saving medication,the law may in the long run lead to a silent catastrophe.
The amendment is designed to respond to the requirements of the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement, by which all member states of the WTO (World Trade Organization ) are bound.It puts an end to the unique Indian way of producing pharmaceuticals at low prices by introducing product patents and extending the patent period. In the past, Indian pharmaceutical patents were only applied to processes, and up until 2002, the duration of patents was limited to 7 years. Before the amendment the annual price of anti-retroviral HIV treatment from US$ 12000 to US$140. India became an exporter of affordable medicine, echoing Indira Gandhi's 1981 vision of better world as “one in which medical discoveries would be free from patent and there will be no profeteering from life and death.”
By contrast, TRIPS compliance will result in a concentration of patents in the hands of giant pharma corporations and an increase in consumer prices. Pharmaceuticals against diseases such as HIV / Aids, cancer, diabetes, and others are likely to become unaffordable to many sufferers. But the Indian government expects the law to foment product innovation, shifting the industry away from generic drug manufacturing and creating a patent pool that would strengthen the country's position in the global drive for patents. The US Government and MNCs support this position that weakens the generica competition provides America with leverage against the EU and Japan, main competitors in the patent market.
A number of activist groups and NGOs, including People's Health Movement, the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), and Greenpeace, have initiated campaigns that call for a wider debate and for a maximum use of the leverage allowed for in TRIPS. They demand a ban of usage and dosage patents, changes in compulsory licensing, and an involvement of the public before a patent can be granted.
The Bangalore-based ALF, which recently initiated its Affordable Medicines And Treatment Campaign, forms part of a vibrant research community that looks at IP questions not so much from a national or traditional angle, but from the perspective of a global ecology of knowledge. They form part of a "second generation" of critical research considers IP within the context of the public domain, as well as forms of collaborative knowledge production (free software / open source), and the global emergence of a "gray economy". In order to generate a reach in line with the urgency of the issues, the academic research conducted at the ALF is combined with educational and networking efforts. Among the latter, mailing lists such as the excellent commons law list play an important role.
This mailing list is hosted by SARAI, another major node in IP research and activism. SARAI emphasizes a cultural profile,combining media and urban studies in its scope of research and event program. "Contested Commons/Trespassing Publics" is the title of a recent international conference on inequalities, conflict and intellectual property.
This is part of an overall educational and community-building approach characteristic of SARAI's work. Workshops, student stipends and explanatory brochures facilitate an engagement with IP problems for everybody, resulting in a posivie social outreach in a country with a thriving NGO culture. The SARAI reader, published yearly, has quickly established itself as a prime resource in critical media research.
Both SARAI and the Alternative Law Forum are partners of World-Information City, World-Information.Org's India project that will culminate in a presentation at Bangalore in November / December 2005. Watch this space for updated information.
Interview with Lawrence Liang
Alternative Law Forum
Alternative Law Forum, Affordable Medicines and Treatments Campaign
Alternative Law Forum, Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Culture Commons (SARAI Collaboration)
Yuvraj Shrivastava: Upcoming Patent Amendment Bill Will Deny Patients Medication
Amit Sengupta: Suggestions for Patents (Third) Amendment Bill to Amend the Indian Patents Act 1970
Rajeev Divan: The Patent Controversy
Commons Law Mailing List
Urban Study Group Mailing List
Conference "Contested Commons / Trespassing Publics", 6 – 8 January, 2005
SARAI brochure on FLOSS (pdf)
Lawrence Liang essay "Copyright, cultural production and open content licensing"