Between 1995 and 2004, the Indian patent office received over 8,000 patent applications related to medicine. Ranbaxy Laboratories, India’s largest drug maker, has claimed protection for 112 drugs during the period, including few which are at various stages of clinical development. In addition, Ranbaxy has also filed 30 patents in 2006, including seven for new drug delivery systems (NDDS), which are in advanced stages of development.
Similarly, other pharma majors such as Cipla and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories have each sought protection for over 100 drugs, says Dr Amit Sengupta who reviewed the mailbox applications in India in collaboration with the health ministry.
However, many of these applications, both from global MNCs and Indian companies, are frivolous which may not qualify as a candidate for a patent. According to Professor Carlos M Correa, a former member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health (CIPIH), many of the patent applications worldwide are merely ‘new laboratory techniques’ and therefore would not qualify for patents.
“The pipeline of discovery drugs are drying up. While there are around a million applications in the US, only 20 new chemical entity (NCE) got US Food and Drug Administration’s approval in 2005 compared to 51 in 1997,“ he said.
Companies are now merely tinkering with the existing drug and seeking patent applications for the same. Only 2-3 application from each of the Indian companies are serious contenders for a patent, Dr Sengupta added.
However, some innovator companies feel that there are many innovations which deserve patent protection. “Innovations are either patentable or non-patentable. Patent offices are getting mature to weed out those inventions which do not merit a patent and one should look at the actual data of patents rejected before a claim like this is made, “ Novartis India vice-chairman and MD Ranjit Shahani said.
Since India became trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS)-compliant in 2005, both global and Indian companies have rushed to claimed protection for new drugs or innovations. If drugs get patented, the innovator company will get exclusive marketing right for 20 years. Few global companies have already got patent for drugs in cancer, anti-Aids and other therapeutic areas.