Civil society concerned over India-US MoU on intellectual property rights

indica News Bureau-


US President Donald Trump said on Feb 25 that India and the US will reach a comprehensive agreement on intellectual property rights (IPR).

Trump held official bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier in the day and spoke on a number of subjects, including partnerships in trade, defense and energy.

A comprehensive deal on the IPR front would be a major development as India has slipped to the 40th position on the US Chamber’s International IP Index.

The country continues to figure in the US” Priority Watch List that identifies trade barriers to US companies due to IP laws of other countries.

India and the US recently signed an agreement on IPR and the Union Cabinet last week approved a memorandum of understanding with the US on the issue of IPR along with other subjects, including information and broadcasting.

As reported by The Economic Times, the agreement comes in the light of the recent International IP Index published by the U.S Chamber of Commerce where India slipped to the 40th position this year from the 36th position in 2019. In addition to this, India has continued to remain on the Priority Watch List of the U.S. While the terms of the MoU remain undisclosed, an official has said that the MoU does not contain any implementation of laws. However, a number of training sessions will be held and opportunities to travel to each other’s countries will be provided for field experts and officials to study the IPR regime of the other country.

Groups working on healthcare access in India have said the U.S.-India MoU on Intellectual Property Rights (IP) is a matter of serious concern.

The groups including the All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN), the National Working Group on Patent Laws, the WTO Campaign for Access to Medicines and Devices–India and the Third World Network (India) Drug Action Forum, Karnataka (DAF-K) have approached the Central government saying the U.S. had been pressing India to make changes in its IP legislation, rules and procedures through the annual United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 reports and was also interested in getting the Indian IP management officials to opt for a stronger IP regime.

The groups want the contents of the MoU to be made public before its finalisation to ensure that India resists US demands to influence the implementation of India’s IP legislations.

Terming it a knowledge-sharing agreement, officials said the agreement will enrich the IPR systems between the two sides.

“It is about active cooperation between India and the US to enrich the IPR systems between the two sides. We’ve done such MoUs with a few other countries also but looking at the importance of overall relationships between these two countries, this is important,” said a senior official.

“The proposed US-India Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Intellectual Property Rights (IP) for the exchange of knowledge and training of officials working in offices undertaking IP management in India is a matter of serious concern because the United States has been pressing India to make changes in its IP legislations, rules and procedures through the annual United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 reports and is also interested in getting Indian IP management officials to opt for a stronger IP regime”, the letter said.

Though the MoU doesn’t imply a legal commitment, experts said India should be cautious as the US, through its Special 301report, has tried to push India to drop Section 3 (d) of the Indian Patents Act that denies patents on items that are not significantly different from their older versions. It is also opposed to compulsory licenses issued for manufactured copies of patented drugs to address situations of national emergency, as permitted by the global trade rules.

Last year, the US said that India currently lacks an effective system for protecting against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharma and agri goods.

The groups stated that India has been the target of USTR since the country chose to make use of all the flexibilities available in the TRIPS Agreement in its implementing legislations. “India’s IP laws especially the Patents Act, Copyrights Act and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act contain robust public interest safeguards against the abuse of IP monopolies.

The groups termed the MoU as an attempt by the United States to use indirect methods such as training Indian patent examiners to dissuade them from implementing the public health safeguards in Indian patent law.

“Any accommodation of a demand from the US to directly change laws or indirectly impact the implementation of the public interest provisions should be rejected outright”, they said. They added that a strong IP regime favouring the patent holder will create changes in the form of extending the term of protection between patent and drug registration procedures and expand the scope of protectable subject matter through the IP officials implementing a liberal interpretation and granting approval for broader IP protection.

The groups suspect that the bilateral arrangement, will allow the United States to get Indian IP management organizations strengthen its enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms for combating IPR infringements through the introduction of specialized commercial courts to achieve a higher level of monopoly for US multinationals operating in the Indian market, for medicines, seeds, electronic designs and products of new and emerging technologies involving biotech, new materials and software.