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India's Patent Problems

Modi and the End of Cheap Medicines

A police officer displays seized Parvon Spas capsules, a type of analgesic and anti-spasmodic, in Jammu July 28, 2009. Mukesh Gupta / Reuters

When is a decision on a patent application not a decision at all? When it runs counter to the powerful commercial and diplomatic forces that protect massively profitable pharmaceutical monopolies. Or at least that is what many advocates for access to medicines are saying is the reason behind Indian patent officials last month reversing their own 2015 decision that denied United States-based Gilead Sciences a patent on its hepatitis C treatment sofosbuvir, commonly marketed as Sovaldi. The new decision holds that Sovaldi meets the Indian patenting requirements of novelty and inventiveness. But the earlier decision by the same agency came to the opposite conclusion, holding that Gilead’s drug was not a significant improvement over an already available compound.

To advocates, only one thing changed in the interim: intense lobbying of Indian authorities by the United States and the pharmaceutical industry. “This was due to political pressure,” intellectual property attorney Tahir

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