It has been recently reported in Economic times that Cipla has filed representation with the government (Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion) seeking revocation of five patents of Novartis on indacaterol, a respiratory drug for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and marketed as Onbrez by Novartis. The central government, under section 66 of the Indian Patent Act, has the power to revoke patent in public interest, after giving patentee an opportunity to be heard.
According to section 66,
“Where the Central Government is of opinion that a patent or the mode in which it is exercised is mischievous to the State or generally prejudicial to the public, it may, after giving the patentee an opportunity to be heard, make a declaration to that effect in the Official Gazette and thereupon the patent shall be deemed to be revoked.”
Cipla has launched its generic version of indacaterol and alleged that Novartis held patents on indacaterol since 2008-09 without manufacturing in India and importing only in negligible amounts, as a result of which there is an urgent and unmet need to provide this drug to patients at affordable prices. According to Cipla, it has potential to manufacture adequate quantities of the drug to make available in the country. Cipla’s launched generic version of indaceterol is reported to be 1/5th of the price of Novartis’ Onbrez.
This is the first time that an Indian generic company has asked the government to revoke patents on the ground of public interest under section 66. Otherwise, the revocation has always been sought on grounds under section 64 (for example obviousness, anticipation, insufficient disclosure, violation of section 8, 3d etc.), whether an Indian company has filed a revocation petition or a counter claim in an infringement suit. However, public health and drug price play significant role in deciding a patent’s fate in India especially in context of Compulsory Licensing of patent as it happened in Natco’s case. Even in Roche v. Cipla, public health and pricing issues were considered by the India courts, although the decision at the High Court was based on merits of the case and not in public interest.
It is highly expected that Novartis will take a legal course to challenge Cipla’s launch. Novartis has been very active to protect patents for its one of the blockbuster anti-diabetic drugs vildaglipton in India. Novartis has sought, just a few months ago, quia timet interim injunctions against several Indian generic companies including Glenmark generics, Bajaj healthcare, Cadila healthcare, Alembic pharmaceuticals against alleged patent infringement of vildaglipton even before they actually launched their generic versions and after they obtained marketing approvals from DCGI.
Thus Novartis will most likely file patent infringement suits seeking interim/permanent injunctions restraining Cipla from manufacturing and selling generic version of indacaterol in India.
On another note, Cipla could also have applied to obtain a compulsory license to manufacture and sell indacaterol before launching the drug. All three grounds of granting compulsory license under section 84(1) viz. reasonable requirements of public not being met, drug non-affordability and non-working of patent in India could have been proved by Cipla. According to Cipla, Novartis declared import of meagre 53,844 units for the year 2013 which do not satisfy even 4500 patients annually where there are more than 1.5 crore patients in need of the drug. Cipla also urged the government to consider COPD as an epidemic worthy of being qualified as a “public health crisis” as it claims 50 lakh lives annually in India, which is more than the toll from HIV-AIDS, malaria, cancer and tuberculosis.
Till now, we are not aware of any case in India wherein the government has revoked the patent in public interest under section 66. The outcome of government opinion to revoke said patents is thus eagerly awaited. This would act as precedent for all similar future cases. And if the government decides to revoke the patent under this section, the ongoing conflict between multinational innovator companies and Indian generic companies is going to intensify. Innovator companies criticize that India has weak patent laws not in compliance with international standards, whereas Indian government takes a stand that its patent laws are in compliance with TRIPs standards and are designed to meet the objectives of drug availability, affordability and accessibility.
About the Author: Meenakshi Khurana, Partner at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org