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People Before Patents

The Médecins Sans Frontière (MSF), a leading organization of conscientious and concerned doctors, has issued an alert about a lawsuit that the Swiss drugs firm//, Novartis, has brought against India, demanding a patent for one of its products (Gleevac, a leukemia drug).

Critics say that drug firms have a habit of making minor improvements in their products and then insisting on patent renewal.

India has been saying the products are not new really and makes its own versions at relatively lower costs.

For example, treating African AIDS cases with patented drugs cost US dollars 10,000 a year in 2000. India's generic version costs a mere US dollars 130.

Novartis was one of the 39 companies that took the South African government to court five years ago, in an effort to overturn the country's medicines act that was designed to bring drug prices down. Now Novartis is up to it again and is targeting India.

(The MSF and other organizations succeeded ultimately in forcing the Novartis to drop its case in South Africa.)

The MSF says, "Millions of people around the world today rely on affordable medicines produced in India. India's law contains elements that help put people before patents, but Novartis is taking the Indian government to court to force a change in the law.

India produces affordable medicines that are vital to many people living in developing countries. Over half the medicines currently used for AIDS treatment in developing countries come from India and such medicines are used to treat over 80% of the 80,000 AIDS patients in the MSF projects.

If Novartis is successful in its challenge against the Indian government and its patent law, more medicines are likely to be patented in India, making it very difficult for generic producers to make affordable versions of them. This could affect millions of people around the world who depend on the medicines produced in India, the MSF stresses.

On the petition page the organization screams,




Actually the hearings in the Novartis suit have concluded and judgement reserved in the High Court of Madras, in the southern Indian state of Madras.

While the petition challenging the rejection of its patent application has been referred by the Madras High Court to an appellate board set up for the purpose, the main suit challenging the Indian patent laws is still before the court.

Sources say that it is bound to be a prolonged battle now and so there is still scope for applying pressure on the Novartis.

The MSF petition can be accessed at:


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