When India joined the World Trade Organization in 1995, they had ten years to update their patent laws to a standard law used for patents. That change happened in 2005, but during the late 1990s India became a force in the third world market for generic drugs. With this in mind, India soon added a provision in its patent law that restricts patents from being placed on existing drugs, whether patented by a company or not elsewhere, that hold important therapeutic properties.
It is this provision that prompted Novartis to file suit.
The lawsuit stems from an attempt by Novartis to patent a new, modified version of their leukemia drug in India. The drug, Glivec, is widely copied as a generic by Indian drug manufacturers.
Pharmaceutical companies argue that generic copies are harming their business – to the tune of millions each year -- but opponents argue that shutting down Indian production of cheap generic drugs could cause many people in Africa and other parts of the third world to no longer be able to afford AIDS medication and other drugs.
"Novartis is now engaged in a type of intellectual property imperialism that would force the poorest people in the world to pay royalties to the richest corporations in the world," said Mike Adams, author of "Natural Health Solutions." "I believe that no medicines should be given patent protection, and that medicines belong to the people of the world, not greedy corporations that deliberately withhold medicine from countries in order to extract the maximum financial gain regardless of the cost in human lives."
Outside of India, other major countries in the generic drug business are Brazil, Canada and China, says AVERT, an international AIDS charity.