Word (World) to Novartis: Drop Lawsuit Over Indian Patent Law

Novartis is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It is suing the government of India to overturn key parts of the new (2005) Indian patent law, which are designed to protect the poor. MSF (known as Doctors without Borders in the USA), is collecting signatures asking the company to drop it's law suit. You should sign.

Daniel Vallesa

Novartis CEO

Tough Guy

In recent years, Novartis has emerged as one of the biggest bullies in the developing world. When Brazil just talked about issuing a compulsory license on an AIDS drug, Novartis CEO Daniel Vallesa traveled to Brazil to meet with President Lula to complain, and then he gave an interview to a local news magazine threatening to pull all Novartis products off the market in Brazil, if the license was issued. It wasn't. Novartis doesn't even sell AIDS drugs.

When Channel 4 in the UK aired the investigative film "Dying for Drugs, Novartis filed a complaint to intimidate others from showing the film. Novartis objected to the film noting the company's investment in a Leukemia drug (Gleevec/Glivec) was relative inexpensive to develop, given the significant donor and government contributions to early research, and the small size of the relatively short clinical trials. Novartis charges about $130 per day for this drug in developing countries.

Indian generic manufacturers were able to produce copies of Gleevec for a small fraction of the Novartis price, for sale in developing countries where there was no patent, or where a government issued a compulsory license. Novartis then obtained a legal prohibition against this, under a complicated WTO provision. When questioned about this at a 2004 World Bank meeting that I attended, Novartis officials told the audience that Novartis wanted to protect it's intellectual property in India, and that with strong patent protection they considered India a potential market of 50 million customers -- telling everyone that they wanted to market their products prices that 95 percent of the population could not afford. (For more on Gleevec disputes, go here).

When Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella took over as chairman of the global trade lobby group the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA), he called for a doubling of their lobbying staff.

Now Novartis is suing the government of India, asking to eliminate automatic compulsory licenses on older medicines now covered by the new India patent act, and seeking to broaden considerably the grounds for granting patents, including for new uses for older drugs. This in a country where the average per capita income was less than $2 per day in 2005.

I signed the petition. You should too.