Talking Tough

Switzerland wants stricter intellectual property rules in India that could harm generic drug makers

Switzerland is pushing for tighter patent protection, data exclusivity and dropping compulsory licencing under a new free trade agreement.

Developed countries continue to put pressure on India to move to stricter intellectual property regimes that would favour multinational pharmaceutical countries over generic drug manufacturers. A new leaked document shows that the Swiss government is pushing for more patent protections and data exclusivity in negotiations for the Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement or TEPA between India and the European Free Trade Association being held in New Delhi.

The European Free Trade Association is a bloc of four European countries – Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. A document shared on Wednesday by the non-profit organisation Knowledge Ecology International in Washington DC shows that the Swiss government has asked the Indian government to do away with its legal provisions for compulsory licensing, which is crucial for production of generic medicines in India.

Compulsory licensing is when a government allows a party to produce a patented product or undertake a patented process without the consent of the patent owner. It is one of the allowances made under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement or TRIPS, which is the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on intellectual property. Compulsory licences are granted to prevent abuse of patents in creating monopolies and to address public health concerns.

The free trade agreement negotiation document shared by Knowledge Ecology International, in a section titled “Chapter on the protection of Intellectual Property – Note by Switzerland”, mentions a phone call between Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Swiss Economics Minister J Schneider-Ammann that took place on March 2 this year. Following the call, the Swiss government submitted a note to the Indian government in the run-up to the talks being held from 22 March to 24 March.

The note says that an important aspect of this trade agreement is innovation and expansion of business for companies of the involved nations. The two main areas of concern are patent protection and data exclusivity. Under patent protection, the note says, “The sole fact that a product is imported into a country and not locally produced shall not be a ground for a compulsory licence (CL) to be issued against the importing country.”

“Disastrous for generics”

Public health activists are worried about the tone of this note. “These proposals go against India’s stated position on FTA which is that India will not allow any change in its patent laws, including compulsory licencing,” said KM Gopakumar of Third World Network and an expert on IP related laws. “Compulsory licencing is a provision that can be invoked to allow local producers to manufacture a drug. This leads to generic competition which keeps prices of medicines low. India is among the largest producers of generic drugs and taking away compulsory licencing will be disastrous for [the] generic industry.”

Gopakumar thinks that the move to restrict compulsory licencing in India has come from Swiss companies Novartis and Roche. Both pharmaceutical giants have faced trouble in Indian courts regarding patents for expensive medicines.

In the landmark case Novartis vs Union of India, the Indian Supreme Court dismissed Novartis’ plea to patent the blood cancer drug Glivec. Earlier in March this year, the Delhi High Court ruled that Roche’s cancer drug trastuzumab may be sold by generic producers Biocon and Mylan, thus ending the monopoly of Roche. Trastuzumab is effective for three types of cancer. Roche wanted generic versions to be used only for one type of cancer on grounds of data exclusivity. Data exclusivity disallows clinical trial data generated by one company to be used by another company to get approvals to market generic versions of the drug for which the trial was conducted.

The Swiss government has also asked India to accept provisions of data exclusivity in the Free Trade Agreement. Conducting clinical trials is expensive and will discourage generic manufacturers from producing new drugs.

“Data exclusivity works like patents,” said Biswajit Dhar of the economics faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “If a company continues to be sole producer even after [the] patent term is over, then what’s the difference?”

The Swiss government’s note claims that investment in generating test data accounts for approximately 50% of the time and costs incurred in developing a new substance for a drug and that data exclusivity will act as an incentive to conduct research and development.

“Policies cannot be made on speculation,” countered Gopakumar. “There needs to be transparency on costs incurred by the companies in research and development. The companies do not share verifiable data on their accounts and use this as argument to boost their profits.”

The Swiss government’s note also says that India needs to change its position on patents in order to tie up the agreement with EFTA.

“They want to assess the level to which [the] Indian government can bend,” said Dhar. “We expect our government to not relent at all from its stated position.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.