The Introduction of Pharmaceutical Product Patents in India: "Heartless Exploitation of the Poor and Suffering" ? 1 I. Introduction
TRIPs, the intellectual property component of the Uruguay round GATT Treaty, gave rise to
an acrimonious debate between the developed countries and less developed countries (LDCs). On one
side, business interests in the developed world claimed large losses from the imitation and use of their
innovations in LDCs. They also asserted that establishing strong intellectual property rights would
actually benefit the developing countries by encouraging foreign investment, the transfer of technology
and greater domestic research and development (R&D). On the other side, LDC governments
adamantly opposed this view, worrying about the higher prices that stronger intellectual property rights
would entail and about the harm that their introduction might cause to infant high tech industries.
No country was more actively involved in opposing this component of the GATT agreement
than India and no part of TRIPs was, and continues to be, more sensitive than the proposal to require
product patents for pharmaceutical innovations. The national sentiment on this issue is well captured
in an often quoted statement made by Indira Gandhi at the World Health Assembly in 1982: "The ideaof a better-ordered world is one in which medical discoveries will be free of patents and there will be noprofiteering from life and death."
What is striking about the original TRIPs debate and the continuing discussions about
pharmaceutical product patents is the divergence between the strength of the claims made by both sides
1 Subtitle in a report compiled by the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (1996). I am indebtedto a great number of people who have contributed to this project over the past year. They areacknowledged in Appendix I, but are in no way responsible for the comments and conclusions presentedhere. Contact address: Economics Department/ Yale University/ 37 Hillhouse Ave/ New Haven, CT06511; or email: [email protected]
and the weakness of the empirical foundations for those claims. Now that the treaty has been signed
and most of the developing world is committed to introducing pharmaceutical product patents by the
year 2004, not only do we not know how much this may effect their welfare, we do not even know the
direction of the effect. This ignorance has political implications. India, for example, agreed to this
aspect of the treaty much against her will, believing it to be harmful to her interests. As a result, the
implementing legislation is currently on the shelf, unable to get through parliament. If it could be
shown, empirically, that product patents, in fact, conveyed some benefits to the country, it would
increase the local political will both to pass legislation and to enforce patentee rights with greater
enthusiasm. If, on the other hand, it could be shown that the net effect of this part of World Trade
Organization (WTO) membership will be, in fact, very costly to the developing countries, it would put
them in a stronger position from which to argue that they should receive concessions on other fronts
in future international negotiations.
Apart from the immediate interest in the effects of this particular policy change, the sheer size
of the change, together with the fact that it was, essentially, imposed from without, makes it a rare
opportunity to examine the economic effects of granting patent rights. In the aftermath of the
signing of the GATT treaty, we are in a situation where a large part of the world is moving from no
protection to full-fledged twenty year protection of intellectual property rights in the one area where,
it is thought, patents really matter: pharmaceuticals. Further, unlike the historical introduction of
pharmaceutical product patents in much of the developed world the group of countries which will be
newly granting rights in product innovations have distinctly different demands for drugs than those
which currently grant such rights. Thus, there is some hope for detecting incentive effects in the
This paper focuses on India. After a brief history, it sets out in Section III the various ways in
which the introduction of product patents for pharmaceuticals may, in theory, benefit or hurt the
country. In the sections which follow, it brings together information from a variety of sources to
assess what can be expected, now, about the importance of each of these various potential effects.
While firm conclusions must await further analysis as the treaty requirements are implemented, the
paper gives some indication of where one might or might not expect to see change occurring.
I obtained much of the information presented in this study while on leave in India from
September, 1996, to March, 1997. Over the six months I was able to interview a wide range of people
(see Appendix I). Executives from Indian firms and the subsidiaries of multinational corporations
(MNCs) were very generous with their time, and also allowed me to tour their R&D facilities. Industry
group representatives from the Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India and the Indian Drug
Manufacturers' Association, as well as members of the National Working Group on Patent Laws,
provided a great deal of documented information and as well as insight on the current and historical
situation. Attendance at a conference held by the Forum of Parliamentarians on Intellectual Property,
a meeting of the U.S.-Indian Business Forum, and a gathering of Indian medical professionals, scientists,
and government representatives sponsored by Pfizer was invaluable for getting a sense of the domestic
and international political aspects of the policy change. Details of the administrative, regulatory and
enforcement issues were gained from interviews with the Drug Controller General, the head of the
Chemists' Association and a number of Indian patent attorneys. Information was also provided by the
Delhi branch of the Indian Patent Office, the Export Promotion Agency (CHEMEXCIL) and the
Department of Science and Technology. II. The Pharmaceutical Industry and the Indian Patent System
In 1970, India put into place a series of policies aimed at moving the country towards self-
sufficiency in medicines. At this time, the national sector was very small, estimated at less than 25%
of the domestic pharmaceutical market (Redwood, 1994). Of the top ten firms by retail sales, only two
were Indian firms and the rest were subsidiaries of multinationals (see Table 1). Much of the country's
pharmaceutical consumption was met by imports.
An important part of the policy package was the passage of the Patents Act 1970 (effective
April, 1972). This legislation greatly weakened intellectual property protection in India, particularly
for pharmaceutical innovations. Pharmaceutical product innovations, as well as those for food and
agrochemicals, became unpatentable, allowing innovations patented elsewhere to be freely copied and
marketed in India. The statutory term was shortened to 5 to 7 years on pharmaceutical process
patents and automatic licensing was put in place. (See Appendix II for details.) As a result, the number
of patents granted per year fell by three-quarters over the following decade, from 3,923 in 1970-71 (of
which 629 were to Indian applicants, 3,294 to foreign applicants) down to 1,019 in 1980-81 (349
Indian, 670 foreign) (OPPI, 1996a). Although all inventors were affected by the weakened patent
regime, it is clear that foreigners, in particular, no longer found taking out a patent in India worthwhile.
Other aspects of the policy package set up to encourage the domestic production of
pharmaceuticals included restrictions on the import of finished formulations, high tariff rates, ratio
requirements (where imports of bulk drugs had to be matched by purchases from domestic sources at a
fixed ratio) and equity ceilings on foreign participation. Further, the strict price control regulation
which was introduced with the 1970 Drugs Price Control Order, while making the production of
pharmaceuticals less profitable for all firms selling in the Indian market, made it relatively less
interesting for foreign firms with market options elsewhere. Thus even the price control regime
probably contributed to the shift towards a greater share of production being met by Indian firms.
Supported by this regulatory environment, by 1991, Indian firms accounted for 70% of the
bulk drugs and 80% of formulations produced in the country (Hamied, 1993). Of the top ten firms by
1996 pharmaceutical sales, six are now Indian firms rather than the subsidiaries of foreign
multinationals (Table 1). Domestic firms now produce about 350 of the 500 bulk drugs consumed in
the country (Government of India, 1994a). Employment in the pharmaceutical sector was estimated
to have reached almost half a million by 1995 (OPPI, 1996b). III. The Economic Effects of the Introduction of Product Patents: Theory
There is a well-known tradeoff implicit in using a patent system to encourage innovation. On
the one hand are the static costs associated with monopoly pricing and, on the other, the dynamic
gains associated with innovation. We first briefly review briefly this tradeoff in the standard single
country setting and then consider the new issues which arise in a multi-country world.
Figure A shows the demand in India for a newly marketed drug (the solid line marked DI). If we
assume that in the absence of patent protection innovations are freely available then, without
protection, price is equal to marginal cost, MC, and output is Qc. When the inventor is allowed to
obtain a patent and prices the drug to maximize his profits from the Indian market, the price is Pm and
output falls to Qm. The triangle 'D' represents the welfare loss to Indian consumers associated with
introducing product patents. In addition to this deadweight loss are the costs of administering the
patent system and enforcing patentee rights through the courts when there are infringement disputes.
There are several possible sources of dynamic gains to be had from granting patent protection.
The inventor's profits, the square marked 'P', is the most obvious source of dynamic gains. Without
protection, inventors do not appropriate the benefits of new drug innovations and so have a sub-
optimal incentive to invest in the research and development to discover, test, and bring them to
market. Because patents allow inventors to appropriate more of the consumer surplus from their
innovations, granting patents may increase welfare by stimulating additional R&D investment.
A second source of potential dynamic gains comes from the disclosure requirement today
common to all patent laws: specifications must be written to enable any person “skilled in the art” to
make use of the innovation. As patentees reveal their innovations in their patent applications,
information about new technologies becomes more quickly available to others as an input into their
Finally, the availability of patents may increase the efficiency of the production of drugs and
the efficiency of the research to discover and develop new drugs by facilitating contracting between
firms. The innovating firm is able to reveal its innovation without losing control and hence may be
able to sub-contract parts of the development work at lower cost. Similarly, the firm may be more
willing to license the patented innovation to manufacturing firms for production. Arora (1996) points
to the role that patents play in providing a means to contract for the transfer of the ‘know-how’
associated with innovations, a component of knowledge which may be particularly important to firms
When considering the welfare of a single country which exists in a multi-country world, new
In a single country world, the identity of inventors is not important. The transfer of benefits
from the hands of consumers, in the form of consumer surplus, into the hands of inventors, in the form
of profits (the square P) arising from the price increase may have distributional implications, but the
effect of the transfer can be offset by domestic policies. It is not a net cost to the country. In a multi-
country world, however, the static costs to one country of introducing patent protection depend not
only on the size of the deadweight loss 'D' but on who is doing the inventing. If, for example, the
newly available patent rights for pharmaceuticals in India are assigned entirely to inventors elsewhere,
then the loss of consumer surplus 'P' is a net cost to India. All of the profits accrue to foreign nationals
in the form of royalties, if production remains in India but under license, or as export profits if the
patented drugs are sourced from elsewhere and imported to serve the Indian market. If the latter
occurs, and local production is replaced by imports, the cost associated with the introduction of product
patents is exacerbated by a loss of employment, a negative shift in the balance payments, and a loss of
self-sufficiency. (See Helpman, 1994, for a general equilibrium model of increasing patent strength
which incorporates terms of trade effects.)
Of course, some of the newly granted patents will be owned by Indians. For these, the profits
remain in the country and the situation resembles again the one-country case described above.
It is important to realize, in particular when trying to understand the strength of multinational
corporations' (MNCs') lobbying efforts during the TRIPs negotiations, that in a multi-country world
there are two relevant demand curves. That for India (or the group of LDCs) and the other for the
patent protected world (see Fgure A; dashed line marked Dw). In the ‘world’, the patentee receives,
each period, profits as indicated by the large dashed box--until the patent expires and there is genericentry to bid down the price. A crucial feature of India's lack of protection for pharmaceutical products
is that it has enabled Indian firms to develop commercial production capabilities for on-patent drugs
before patent expiry and move rapidly into the world market with them on the day the patents have
lapsed. This means that the introduction of patent protection in India will confer an additional benefit
on patent owners, over and above any profits obtained from sales in the Indian market: it will delay the
erosion of the profits derived from world sales of patented drugs which comes about with generic
competition. Is this important? It has been estimated that just before patent expiry Glaxo-Wellcome
was earning a profit of around 7 million dollars per day from sales of Zantac (The Economist, April 26,
The flipside of this gain to patentees is that introducing product patents imposes an additional
cost on India, this time to Indian firms rather than consumers, by lowering the profits earned by Indian
firms as a result of their first-mover advantage. (It also imposes a cost on 'world' consumers in higher
prices, but they are not the focus of our analysis here.)
Finally, in a multi-country world one must ask where R&D will take place. The improvements
in effeciency which may be obtained through licensing when patents are available, may go hand in hand
with a shift from domestic, imitative, R&D to a strategy of purchasing technology from elsewhere, if
these two strategies are substitutes. If, on the other hand, technologies purchased from others
complement domestic R&D efforts then this aspect of the availability of patents may encourage
greater domestic research efforts. In a multi-country world firms also have many options in deciding
where to locate R&D facilities and obtaining this type of direct investment can be beneficial: local
firms have been shown to receive positive spillovers from the R&D performed by neighboring firms
(see Jaffe, Trajtenberg and Henderson). The position that a country takes towards intellectual
property may influence whether it is viewed as a favorable location for such investment. (The
evidence is mixed; see Maskus, 1996.) There may be real economic reasons why intellectual property
laws matter to location decisions. Beyond these, a country's stance on intellectual property may be
given further importance by being treated as a signal of its business climate more generally.
We have seen that the static costs to a country which is introducing patent protection in a
multi-country world may be higher than the standard one-country model would suggest. It has been
argued that the offsetting dynamic gains to additional patent rights may also be minimal in a world
where patents are already available to protect much of the global market. With profits coming from
other patent protected markets, those created by the newly available rights are only incremental, may
be small, and, with diminishing returns to R&D, may stimulate negligible amounts of additional
innovation. (See Chin and Grossman, 1990; and Deardorff, 1992, for formal models which capture this
feature.) This suggests that the group of countries who are introducing product patents as a result of
WTO membership may face higher consumer drug prices and a loss of industry profit and employment,
for little gain in new pharmaceuticals.
There are grounds, however, for thinking that this paints too gloomy a picture. It may be the
case that the incremental returns created by monopoly profits in these LDCs are, currently, too small
to stimulate much new discovery research. But existing drug innovations are only useful if they are
developed and introduced. Innovations are not, in fact, 'freely available'. The process of adapting
pharmaceuticals products to local conditions, obtaining marketing approval and developing the market
must be done in every country individually and it is a costly affair. While the profits associated with
India's introduction of patent protection may have little effect on world drug discovery they may have
a large effect on the willingness of foreign or domestic firms to invest in marketing in India drugs which
would, in any event, have been discovered. As discussed below, the issues here are directly akin to those
surrounding orphan drugs. On the other hand, it is also possible that an inventor with the ability to
monopolize the market may, for reasons associated with the global market, chose to delay introduction
longer than the time that domestic firms would otherwise have been able to launch their own imitative
products. Thus it is not clear whether introducing product patents will speed up or slow the availability
Most important, perhaps, in determining whether there will be significant dynamic benefits to
be gained from the new patent rights is the fact that demand patterns for pharmaceuticals differ.
Although the new rights may contribute very incrementally to the overall returns to R&D, the
additional profits may represent a sizable addition to the returns to doing certain types of R&D. Just as
patent protection in India might make it profitable to obtain marketing approval in India for a new
drug, it may also add significantly to the incentives to discover a cure for leprosy. Long ago Vernon
(1957) observed "that inventors in the industrialized areas of the world may need some special
incentive to concentrate their talents on products of special utility to underdeveloped areas." (Quoted
in Seibeck, et. al., 1982). The benefit to the 'South' of introducing patent protection when demands
differ is explored formally in Diwan and Rodrik (1991)
IV. Evidence: Static Price Effects
To estimate the size of the deadweight loss that will be associated with the introduction of
product patents in India one needs to know two things. First the extent to which prices will be higher
for new on-patent drugs as a result of patent protection and second, the consumer surplus lost as the
Consider first the likely increase in prices. How much the granting of legal monopoly rights to
an inventor enhances his ability to raise prices above marginal cost depends, firstly, the extent to
which it is possible to extract rents without patent protection. In India, this seems to be small for most
drugs. The pharmaceutical market in India currently appears to be competitive. There are a multitude
of manufacturers: in addition to 250 large pharmaceutical firms and about 9,000 registered small-scale
units, the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) estimates that there another 7,000
unregistered small-scale units producing drugs (Clippings, 12/93). Seven years after its introduction in
India, there were 48 firms offering the important on-patent drug Ciprofloxacin for sale in the 1996
Pharmaceuticals Guide. The U.K. multinational Glaxo was faced with several local competitors from
the first day that its subsidiary marketed its proprietary drug Ranitadine (Zantac) in India. Competition
between MNCs also may be growing. One executive of an MNC subsidiary suggested in an interview
that the gentleman's agreement which has, over the past decades, kept MNCs from selling other MNC's
on-patent drugs in India is now beginning to break down.
That said, drugs are sold in India under brand names and early entrants with strong brands seem
to have a persistent advantage in the market. Ghemawat and Kothavala (1996) report that Ranbaxy,
one of the largest Indian pharmaceutical firms, is consistently able to charge a 5 to 10% price premium
(on uncontrolled drugs, see below). This is partly a reflection of real quality differences in a situation
where quality control is primarily assured by a firm's interest in its reputation. It is also a reflection of
doctors' strong tendency to prescribe by brand rather than more difficult to remember generic names
The third column of Table 2 shows the 1995 Indian prices of the four drugs with the largest
sales in India among those which were on-patent in Europe in 1995. The following columns indicate,
for each drug, the ratio of prices in Pakistan, the U.K. and the U.S. for the same dosage form relative
to the price in India. Although the ratio of Indian prices to those elsewhere differs substantially across
drugs, and this is a small non-random sample of drugs, it suggests that prices in India for drugs which
are on-patent elsewhere are currently substantially lower than in the countries granting protection.2
Would they have been higher if India had had in place the type of protection it now is facing?
This depends on what the patentees would like to do and what they would be allowed to do.
A number of factors might contribute to a high price elasticity of demand for a new patented
drug in India and thus a monopoly price which is not substantially higher than the competitive price.
First, incomes are low and, with less than 4% of the population covered by medical insurance, drug
expenditures are mainly paid directly by consumers (Redwood, 1994).3 As a result, consumers are
likely to be more price sensitive than they are in the developed countries and quicker to switch to less
effective but cheaper alternative therapies when they exist or to stop making drug purchases
altogether. Currently many diseases and conditions do have multiple alternative drug therapies which
are off-patent and competitively priced. In fact, as of the end of 1996, only eight drugs on the World
2 Danzon and Kim (1995) provide examples of the sensitivity of cross-country pharmaceutical pricecomparisons to sample selection.
3 In comparison, in 1987, about 75 percent of Americans had outpatient prescription drugbenefits (OTA, 1993).
Health Organization's 7th Model List of Essential Drugs were still under patent protection in Europe.
Of these, five are designated as 'complementary' rather than 'essential' (Redwood, 1994). So the option
to switch to a lower-priced drug often seems to be available. In addition, in interviews I was told by
people involved in the sale and distribution of pharmaceuticals (not to mention friends residing in
Delhi) that it is also relatively easy for consumers to switch between drugs in India. Chemists quite
freely substitute alternative, usually lower priced, medicines for those prescribed, and will sell
prescription-only pharmaceuticals without scripts. (The results of my own, sample of size one, trial
buying Zantac in Khan Market fully support this view.)
However, while all of the above considerations suggest that Indian consumers will be very
sensitive to high prices on patented drugs, there are reasons not to take it for granted. Income per
capita has been growing at about 5 percent per year during the past few years and the opening of
medical insurance provision to private competition is a reform which is being discussed by government
(IMF, 1997). One also cannot assume that alternative therapies will always be available to provide
competition for patented drugs. Table 3 shows the percentage of the audited Indian pharmaceutical
market going to drugs which are on-patent in the U.K. in various therapeutic areas, based on data from
1992. For example, 84% of the drugs sold to treat antipeptic ulcers contain substances on-patent in
Europe. While there may be substitutes, the dominance of the patented drugs in some categories
suggests that they are not very close substitutes and hence would not contribute much to holding down
A look at history also does not give one much confidence that low incomes will put an
effective lid on prices. In 1961, at a time when India had strong intellectual property laws, a U.S.
Senate Committee headed by Senator Kefauver reported that "'in drugs, generally, India ranks amongst
the highest priced nations of the world.'" (quoted in Hamied, 1993). Similarly, for the four major drugs
shown in Table 2, the prices in Pakistan, which does grant product patents for pharmaceuticals, are 3
to 14 times higher than in India. Although Pakistan is somewhat richer than India (1995 GDP per
capita was about $419 in Pakistan versus about $334 in India; IMF, 1997) the difference in income is
too small to seem a plausible explanation for most of the observed price differential.
There is another consideration, one which did not exist historically but is of growing
importance today, which may exert a strong upward pressure on the price that a patent-owning firm
would choose to set in India. Patentees maximize global profits. Increasingly, drug prices in developed
country markets are being regulated using global reference pricing. For countries which fix ceiling
prices, the price for a newly introduced drug may be linked to its price elsewhere. This policy may be
explicit, or world prices may be linked, but less directly, to regulatory decisions. In the U.S., Clinton's
1993 Health Security Act proposed using the lowest price in 22 other countries as a benchmark for
determining the reasonableness of prices set for newly introduced drugs (Danzon and Kim, 1995).
Faced with either situation, patent-owning firms may well chose to sell in India at a price substantially
higher than Pm in Figure A because they do not want to put in jeopardy the prices that they are allowed
in other regulated markets. The importance of this reference pricing concern was brought up
repeatedly in interviews with executives of MNCs' Indian subsidiaries (see Section VII for further
However, that an innovating firm would choose to sell at a higher price when granted patent
protection is clearly beside the point if it is not allowed to charge a higher price. One cannot really
think about the effect of product patents in the pharmaceutical industry without being equally attentive
to the price control regime. India has had, and continues to have, price control on a large part of the
drug market. There is nothing in the GATT treaty which prevents India from continuing to use price
regulation to protect consumers against patented drugs being sold at high prices.
While appealing, and, on the face of it, simple, this policy is not straightforward. First, the
Indian price control regime is set up such that ceiling prices are determined as a mark-up on input costs
(see Appendix III). This means that there is a 'transfer-price loophole'. An MNC may export the
patented active ingredient to its Indian subsidiary at an artificially high transfer price and thereby attain
a higher controlled price for its formulations. News reports suggest that MNCs have not been
"Pfizer charges $9,000 per Kg. for same material available from Italy @ $125 per Kg."
"Sandoz imports @ $60,000 per Kg. item available from Germany @ 23,000 per Kg."
Theobromine imported by an MNC subsidiary at 2,436 Rs/kg compared to a price of 1,088
Rs/kg on the international market. (Scrip, quoted in IDMA, 1996; and Clippings, 1993).
However, this practice can be controlled, if it is detected, by GATT rules on uniform global transfer
A patent owner may also simply refuse to supply a drug placed under what it views as too
stringent price control. While this is conceivable, it is unlikely that either a foreign or a domestic firm
would relish the type of negative publicity that a refusal to supply would create. Domestic firms, in
particular, could be subject to retaliatory pressure by the government. And the government would have
a good case for waiving the restrictions on compulsory licensing as allowed by the GATT treaty in
cases of "national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency".4 Because India has a well
developed industry, allowing domestic firms to obtain compulsory licenses is a realistic alternative to
Finally, some patented drugs may be explicitly exempted from the price control regime by the
government. Currently, in order to encourage domestic R&D investment, indigenously developed
pharmaceutical products may be declared free of price control for 3 to 10 years, with the number of
years depending on the extent of the domestic R&D input. As of 1996, the Department of Scientific
and Industrial Research had issued 37 certifications of indigenous R&D efforts (Government of India,
1996b). These include two companies who received exemptions from price control for developing
indigenous processes to produce Ranatidine (Pharmaceutical Guide, 1996).5 In the future, some of the
products exempted under this policy will also be patent protected in India.
In the end, the stringency of the price controls actually placed on patented pharmaceuticals will
be the outcome of a complex bargaining process between the government and industry. The most that
can be said with certainty is that granting inventors product patent rights, with limited scope for
compulsory licensing, will strengthen the hand of firms in the negotiations.
The deadweight loss of Indian consumer welfare that will result from the introduction of
4 Redwood (1994) points out that compulsory licensing on the grounds that the patented item isbeing sold by the patentee at too high a price is not expressly forbidden in the treaty. The wording ofthis section is very vague, however, and the details will be fought out over time. To argue that it wasgranted to counter a threat to not supply would give India a strong case if a compulsory license weredisputed by the country of the patentee.
5 It would seem that the only possible benefit of this policy could be to firms with strong brands able,on that basis, to price at a premium, or to single suppliers. Otherwise, exemption from price control,given that competitor suppliers remain bound by price control, would seem rather uninteresting.
product patents will depend, in large part, on how important patented drugs are in total pharmaceutical
sales. Redwood (1994) gives two figures for June of 1993. At that time, the top 500 brands in the
audited pharmaceuticals market contained 24 active substances under product patent in Europe. (See
Table 4 for the names and years of patent expiration.) Sales of drugs containing these substances were
only 10.9% of top 500 sales. Including all brands, 31 substances were on-patent in Europe, and sales of
drugs containing these substances were just 8.4% of total audited sales. Since audited sales exclude small
firms and government procurement, these figures probably overstate the share of sales in India of drugs
which contain substances under product patent cover elsewhere. There is no indication here that the
introduction of patent protection is going to have a large effect the welfare of most drug consumers.6
If the rate of new product innovation is stable over time, in equilibrium the introduction of new
patented drugs will be matched by those going off patent. Supposing this to be the case, as exclusive
marketing rights (EMR - see Appendix II) and then product patents are introduced in India, the
percentage of the market under patent protection will initially grow but then top off by the year 2015,
probably remaining at a rather low level.7
One question that it is important to ask here is whether it is reasonable to extrapolate into the
future from current levels of on-patent drugs. Is the rate of pharmaceutical innovation likely to be
stable? In the past innovation has come in waves, with important breakthroughs, such as the sulpha
6 Putting a clever twist on these statistics, which are repeatedly used by the supporters of theimpending regime, the Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (the industry lobby for the smallerdomestic, and therefore opposition, firms) makes the following calculation:
Loss to U.S. MNCs as calculated by them and submitted, and accepted, by the U.S. Trade Representative
Gains to Indian manufacturers on same at at 4% of sales
7 It is not likely to be the same as the share of the market currently going to drugs on-patent inEurope for two reasons. First, some products will be patented in India which are never patented inEurope. Second, the higher prices arising from patent protection may either raise, or lower, the valueof sales of the patented and substitute off-patent drugs relative to what they would have been if suchprotection were not available.
drugs, followed by incremental developments of the newly discovered families of drugs. There is a
suggestion that drug research in recent years has been relatively unfruitful so we may currently be at a
low point in terms of important drugs still under patent cover. While U.S. FDA approvals of new
medical entities have been fairly constant over the past two decades, ranging from 12 to 30 per year
during the period 1976-91 but with no obvious trend (OPPI, 1994), it is claimed that in recent years
they have largely been for 'me-too' type innovations which do not represent significant therapeutic
advances. The U.S. FDA reported that 84% of the new drugs placed on the market by large U.S. firms
during the period 1981-88 had 'little or no' potential for therapeutic gain over existing drug therapies
(Special Committee on Aging of the U.S. Senate, reported in Hamied, 1993). Similarly, in a study of
775 New Chemical Entities (NCEs) introduced into the world during the period 1975-89, Barral (1990)
reports that a group of experts rated only 95 as truly innovative. If there is a new breakthrough in
chemical-based drug research this pattern could change again, leading to a jump in important patented
drugs. Further, biotechnology, and the inclusion of micro-organisms as patentable subject matter,
present a whole new opportunity for finding important and patentable new drug therapies. If
biotechnology fulfills its promise or if there is a new breakthrough in chemical-based research, then
granting product patents for drug innovations could have a much more substantial impact on consumer
welfare than the figures given above would suggest.
Focussing only on the part of the Indian market which will be patent protected, the deadweight
loss of consumer welfare associated with those patents depends on the elasticity of demand for the
patented drugs. Greater price sensitivity may result in lower prices (although, as noted above, Indian
demand conditions may not be the overriding concern of patent owners when setting prices in India).
However, for a given change in price, greater sensitivity implies a greater fall in sales and a
correspondingly higher deadweight loss as consumers switch to less desirable alternatives or out of the
A number of estimates have been made of the potential consumer surplus loss from price
increases associated with introducing product patents in India. The general method followed has been
to assume.a constant price elasticity demand function for patented drugs and a range of ex-ante
industry structures. Then price and welfare changes are simulated under various assumed elasticities of
demand and assuming that firms have pricing freedom and no global concerns (see Nogues, 1993;
Subramanian, 1994; and Maskus and Eby Konan, 1994) . The most recent and detailed of these studies
is Watal (1996) who breaks down the market by patented drug and links the assumed elasticity to the
level of therapeutic competition. Her results suggest a fall in social welfare of 33 million US dollars
and an average increase in the price of drugs if patents had been available of about 50 percent. V. Evidence: The Redistribution of Profits and Manufacturing Employment
As discussed in Section III, in a multi-country world, the static cost associated with the
introduction of product patents depends in part on which countries' inventors receive the profits which
are gained through higher prices in India and a longer period before generic entry in the world market.
Given current patterns, it appears that most of these profits will, at least initially, go to foreign
inventors. During the period 1975-1995 only 65 of approximately 100,000 patents granted in the
U.S. for drug and health innovations were to inventors with an Indian address.8 Initial 'black-box'
applications to the Indian Patent Office (those submitted after January 1, 1995; See Appendix II)
suggest too that foreign inventors will be the main beneficiaries of the new product patents regime. Of
the drug-related patents granted in 1995 and 1996, and therefore process patents, 39% and 48%,
respectively, were to domestic firms or inventors (based on the applicant's address) (IDMA, 1996). In
a sample (about half) of the patent applications made in the first six months of 1995, again 50% of
the applications for process patents were to India resident inventors. However, in contrast, just 14%
of the applications for product patents were made by domestic inventors (CDRI, 1996a).
The size of the new profit opportunities in India, and hence the transfer from domestic
consumer to foreign firms, depends, like the deadweight loss, on the local demand functions for
patented drugs and the extent to which patent-owning firms choose and are permitted to set prices
above costs. What about the other profit rectangle, the world generics market? This market is already
large: in 1995, about half of all U.S. prescriptions were filled with generics (BCG, 1996). And it is
projected to grow very rapidly. Being first into this market appears to matter. A report by Lehman
Brothers (1996) notes that, in the U.S., the first generic entrant can sell at a 30% discount to the
branded product, compared to a 75% discount for later entrants. Another newsletter reports that
"Industry experts say.80 per cent [of profits] are milked out of a drug in the first 18 months of its
reincarnation as a generic." CDRI (1996b). Being based in a country which does not grant product
patents helps firms to get into the market earlier. McFetridge (1996) notes that when Canada stopped
granting its generics manufacturers compulsory licenses to produce on-patent drugs, the firms "were
8 Drugs and health includes all patents with an international patent classification in either A61 orA01N. Jonathan Putnam, Charles Rivers Associates, kindly provided these data.
exercised by their loss of 'first mover' advantages in U.S. and other foreign generic markets." In fact,
Indian firms currently have two institutional advantages in trying to enter quickly with low costs. The
lack of product patents means that an imitating firm can have many years of experience with the
commercial production of an on-patent drug before the day that the patent expires in the U.S., in
Europe and elsewhere. Indian firms also benefit from the fact that, in India, changes in a drug's
production process do not require that it be re-approved for marketing, as is typically required
elsewhere. Thus Indian firms are free to experiment to fine-tune their production processes.9
That said, Indian firms are likely to become important players in this market regardless of
whether they have a first-mover advantage. India is a currently positioning to become a significant
supplier of bulk drugs to the world. Many manufacturing facilities have been approved by the U.S.
FDA, the U.K. MCA, and so on. In generics, low manufacturing costs are essential. Here labor costs
are India's most obvious advantage, but one Indian firm recently estimated that its capital costs were
also 50-75% lower than those in developed countries (Ghemawat and Kothavala, 1996). Most of the
larger Indian firms have ambitious plans to expand their generic drug exports, either as suppliers,
through joint venture agreements with foreign firms or by purchasing formulation plants overseas. For
example, Cipla has formed a subsidiary with a local firm in South Africa to sell Cipla products in that
country, as well as a marketing alliance with Novopharm, Canada (Cipla, 1996). Ranbaxy has
purchased formulation plants in the U.S. and in Ireland, as well as forming a joint venture with Eli Lilly
to market joint products in the U.S. Lupin has alliances with Merck Generics, U.K., Fujisawa, U.S. and
McGaw Inc., U.S., to market their cephalosporin products. They have also just established a joint
venture in South Africa and are negotiating further alliances in Russia and China. Forming alliances
rather than direct marketing is the established route into the international market. A local presence is
seen to be necessary both to speed marketing approvals and increase customer acceptance of Indian
9 I was told by an executive at one MNC subsidiary that in developed country markets firms willoften continue to use an early process in commercial production, even when they know it to be lessefficient than one discovered later, simply because of the high cost of getting a new process approved.
10 On this point, one executive of an Indian firm described a recent consumer opinion survey fieldedin the U.S. which indicated that an Indian made health product was acceptable to the extent that it wasused externally: shampoos and cremes were fine, toothpaste was more doubtful and pharmaceuticalswere definitely considered suspect. This bias may carry over to the domestic market. An executivefrom an Indian firm told me that launching a new drug in India was impossible because of Indiandoctors' view that a drug could not be important if it had not appeared in Lancet. On the other hand, inanother interview I was told of a recent survey which had shown that, given the choice, Indian doctorsprefer to prescribe drugs made by Indian companies--which, it was suggested, might be due to unethical
MNCs are also moving towards greater production of generics in India through their own
subsidiaries or in collaboration with Indian firms. In 1994 and 1995 there were 50 applications per
year for government approval of collaborations with foreign partners in the field of pharmaceuticals
(including the establishment of subsidiaries; Government of India, 1994 and 1995). These are primarily
to source generic bulk drugs. Thus, while generic sales may become less profitable for the Indian firms
without the jump on other entrants, it seems unlikely that the introduction of product patents will
prevent either Indian firms or India-based MNC subsidiaries from increasing their participation in the
It is not entirely clear what the overall effect of granting product patents will be on the amount
of pharmaceutical production taking place in India. Currently, over three-quarters of the bulk drugs and
finished formulations consumed in India are produced domestically (see Section II). Most of these are
off-patent drugs (see Section IV). There is no reason to expect that granting product patents would
effect the production of off-patent drugs for the domestic market one way or the other and, as
discussed above, it is not likely to dampen production for export to the world generics market.
Once patent protection is available, however, patent-owning firms may choose either to
export their patented drugs to India, thereby replacing domestic production, or they may chose to
produce in India through a subsidiary or under license to Indian firms. An executive of an MNC
subsidiary suggested in an interview that the MNCs' concern about global price differentials makes local,
low cost, production attractive as a way to justify Indian prices which are lower than those charged in
developed country markets. On the other hand, the 'transfer pricing loophole' discussed in Section IV
would give patent-owning MNCs an incentive to produce bulk drug inputs elsewhere and then import
them into India. Another executive of an MNC subsidiary pointed out that, while the availability of
strong intellectual property protection was necessary, other considerations, like tax advantages, were at
least as important in choosing a manufacturing location for on-patent drugs.11 Further, he noted that,
unlike generic drugs, manufacturing costs are a small component of the price of patented drugs and
therefore India's advantages as a low-cost manufacturer would not be particularly useful in attracting
11 It is not entirely obvious why MNCs have not invested in Indian manufacturing of their on-patentdrugs since, regardless, the drugs are imitated by local firms. When posed this question, the sameexecutive stated there was 'always something to lose', particularly through employee job switching.
investment in local production facilities. So, while the largest part of pharmaceutical production should
be unaffected, it seems likely that some part of the local production of on-patent drugs will be replaced
Since 1988-89 the pharmaceutical sector has made a positive contribution to India's balance of
payments. (See Table 5 for trade details.) With the introduction of product patents, the resulting
transfer of profit from domestic to foreign patent owners, via royalty payments or export profits on
drugs sold to Indian consumers, will have an adverse effect on India's balance of payments. So, too, will
the fact that Indian firms will no longer be able to export on-patent drugs to other countries, primarily
in the former Soviet Union and in Africa, which, until now, also did not offer protection for
pharmaceutical products. The latter effect is likely to be small, however. Comparing Table 6, which
shows exports of major on-patent drugs, to Table 5 it is clear that on-patent drugs are only a small
part of total exports by value. One can see too, in Table 5, that most of the growth in exports has
been in bulk drugs, which are likely to have been headed to the West, rather than in finished
formulations. The current and growing importance of generics in exports suggests that the
introduction of product patents will not have a dramatic negative effect on the balance of payments,
such as that experienced by Italy where the net pharmaceutical exports as a share of total trade fell by
about 30 percent in the decade after product patents were introduced (Scherer and Weisbrot, 1995). VI. Evidence: Administration and Enforcement
In the developed countries, the resource cost in terms of skilled labor required to run and
enforce a patent system is given little thought. However, patent examiners, to take one example,
typically have advanced degrees and work experience in the relevant sciences. In the countries
strengthening their patent systems now, nationals with such qualifications are scarce, in high demand
from industry, and consequently patent offices will either be under (or inappropriately) staffed or they
will be very costly to run. For the year 1993-94, the Indian PTO cost the government about 330
thousand dollars (net of receipts; Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, 1996). By
contrast, in the late 1980s the U.S. PTO was spending about 300 million dollars per year. Although
one would not expect the Indian system be as costly as that in the U.S. (but note that India has a
population roughly four times greater), improving the facilities and staff so that it can effectively deal
with the coming expansion in the size and importance of the intellectual property rights system is
There is also a shortage of the complementary skills outside of the patent office required to
maintain an effective patent system. In 1995 there were only 151 patent agents in the entire country
(Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, 1996). Because relatively few patents are
filed, there is little experience with writing specifications, detecting loopholes in others' patents, and so
on. According to a Delhi patent attorney, in the past two decades there have been just four or five
patent infringement cases filed per year, so there is little local legal experience with patent litigation.12
The types of problems encountered in a country inexperienced with intellectual property go further.
He related a story of an early copyright infringement case, where the police stapled confiscated CD
Roms into a notebook, thus destroying the evidence.
In recognition of the current shortage of awareness and skills needed to maintain and use a
patent system, some training has begun. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has
held more than 50 seminars across the country to increase understanding of intellectual property. A.K.
Reddy, Chairman of Reddy's Group, has donated land to establish a National Institute of Intellectual
Property. A primary goal of the institute would be to train patent agents.
In discussions with people in the country involved with the patent system one becomes aware
of the large range of expertise--within companies, among lawyers, the courts, the police, and so on--
required to make a patent system work. Again, developing and using these human resources is
expensive, and will be particularly so if strengthening the system leads to a rash of litigation. Of
course, not all of the anticipated increase in administration and enforcement costs can be laid at the
feet of pharmaceutical product patents, since changes in the IPR system will be more extensive.
However, if the U.S. experience is anything to go by, most litigation can be expected over patents in
this area (Lanjouw and Schankerman, 1997). VII. Evidence: Diffusion
12 This does not, of course, mean that there is little infringement. With a short patent term,compulsory licensing with a royalty cap of 4%, and no reversal of the burden of proof, there has beenlittle payoff to prosecuting infringements. According to an Indian patent attorney, patentees usuallydo better than the 4% royalty by settling disputes outside of court.
It was pointed out in Section III that the dynamic benefit of new innovation comes only after
two steps: discovery and diffusion. One part of diffusion is moving a new pharmaceutical product from
the laboratory to the market. This process includes adapting the product to local conditions, obtaining
marketing approval, and introducing it to doctors and others in the distribution chain.13 Diffusion also
includes the spread of information about new discoveries to other firms, so that the information can
become an input into their own research and development. In this section we consider what empirical
evidence can say now about the effect that introducing product patents might have on the rate of the
diffusion of pharmaceutical innovations to India, as information to firms and as new products to Indian
One of the original arguments for having a patent system was that, in return for monopoly
rights received from the government, the inventor disclosed his innovation in the patent specification.
This was seen as an important mechanism for diffusing information so that others could build upon it
and to avoid the replication of research efforts. While this argument makes sense in a one-country
world, or, as in history, a multi-country world where communication links are poor, it does not carry
through to the group of countries introducing produce patents today. The bulk of significant
innovations are patented internationally and Indian firms are easily able to access world patent
specifications. Interviews with the major Indian firms indicated that all of them had this capacity in-
house, through computerized databases and the internet, and none considered access to frontier
technical information a difficulty. For small and medium-sized firms, the Indian PTO operates a
computerized patent search facility in the city of Nagper with access to patent specifications from all
countries. They will perform searches and send copies of specifications for a low fee. Thus, there is, if
anything, a negligible gain in additional information disclosure to be expected by the country’s granting
Will granting product patents speed the arrival of new drug discoveries to the shelves of Indian
pharmacies? This depends on how quickly new drugs are arriving now, in the absence of product
patents, and whether patentee control will speed or slow this arrival. Table 4 shows the on-patent
drugs in the top 500 brands sold in India in June of 1993. The second column shows the year of first
introduction somewhere in the world and the third column shows the year in which the drug was
13 As one Indian R&D manager pointed out, the local conditions include climatic variation from thetropics to snowy mountains with unpredictable transport conditions and long shelve-life requirements. Ensuring stability is one of the foremost concerns in product development for the Indian market.
approved for marketing in India by the Drugs Controller General or, in a few cases, the year of
introduction by an Indian firm. The forth column gives the introduction lag. With the exception of
Cefaclor (and see below for a discussion of this case), for drugs where both dates are known the
introduction lag was typically four or five years. Since the process of clinical testing and obtaining
marketing approval takes about three years for the first applicant in India (estimated by the Drugs
Controller General) and since executives of Indian firms stated in interviews that they usually waited to
see the extent of a new drug's acceptance internationally before investing heavily in process
development, this implies very quick imitation by Indian firms. The managing director of Glaxo
(India) Ltd., noted that they had tried to be first into the Indian market with their patented drug
Ranatidine (Zantac), but were met with seven Indian competitors at the time of launch. Whether the
speed of imitation in recent years can be extrapolated into the future, when more difficult to copy
biotechnology-based drugs become increasingly important, is, of course, again an open question.
Table 4 indicates the introduction lags for drugs which were, eventually, launched in India. In a
presentation in India, one MNC representative suggested that product patents will increase the access
of Indian consumers to new drugs by pointing to the fact that many 'important drug therapies' had not
been introduced in India at all. However, to put this in context, consider again the study by Barral
(1990) of NCEs introduced anywhere in the world from 1975 through 1989. As noted above, his group
of experts classified 95 of these 775 NCEs as therapeutically innovative. Among the innovative drugs,
as of 1990, 31% were being marketed in fewer than six of the seven largest pharmaceutical markets.14
In other words, even restricting attention to new drugs deemed to offer a therapeutic advantage, a
significant portion were not introduced by the patentee in developed country markets that did grant
It is likely that failures to launch in India are for quite different reasons than the absence of
product patents. One is administrative. The inventor, or an imitating Indian firm, may have tried to
introduce the product but failed to obtain marketing approval. In India, by law firms are required to
show only the safety and efficacy of new drugs in order to obtain marketing approval from the Drugs
Controller General (as in the U.S.). However, according to the Drugs Controller General himself, in
practice they are often also required to show utility, that is, that the new drug is needed. One company
interviewee involved in this process from the industry side also asserted that this was often required
14 Clearly truncation could be part of the story. Some of these may have ended up being globallylaunched after 1990. However, truncation would only affect a few of the more recent NCEs.
and, further, that new drug applications were frequently rejected by the government on this basis. If
this is the main explanation then changes in intellectual property laws will have little impact.
Another explanation lies in possible hesitation on the part of patent-owning MNCs in
launching their patented drugs themselves, because of their concern about global reference pricing.
This was brought up repeatedly in interviews with executives of MNC subsidiaries as an explanation for
decisions either to delay launches or to never launch their patented pharmaceuticals in India. This is
apparently a particularly important issue for American firms, but most European firms also pay
attention to global price differentials (the pricing freedom given to Glaxo's Indian subsidiary,
demonstrated in its race to enter the market with Ranatidine, seems to be a rare exception). For
example, Bayer chose not to introduce its patented drug ciprofloxacin in India because it would have
had to sell it at what Bayer viewed as, at that time, too low of a price. Instead, ciprofloxacin was
introduced three years after its world launch by the Indian firm Ranbaxy (interviews and Clippings,
Will this issue cause problems for India once inventors are granted monopoly control over the
introduction of new products? More than seven years after its world introduction and long after the
entrance of a multitude of local producers, Bayer also began marketing ciprofloxacin in India, at a price
about a tenth of that in the U.S. (interview). Since regulatory attention to prices in developed
countries is paid primarily at the time that drugs are initially introduced, it appears that global price
differences become less important over time. Also, like a threat of non-supply in the face of price
regulation, a failure to introduce could be combated with compulsory licensing (see Section IV).
Nevertheless, these remedies do not operate immediately. A tendency on the part of patent-owning
MNCs to delay the introduction of their innovative drugs in India could mean that, in the future, new
drug therapies become available to Indian consumers more slowly than they would have if the current
regime, which allows imitation, had been retained. VIII. Evidence: Research and Development
In thinking about the possible effects of the introduction of product patents on investment in
15 Danzon (1997) reports that Glaxo did not launch Imigram for several years after obtainingmarketing approval in France because the government insisted on a low price.
R&D, there are three separate issues. First is the effect of the incremental returns received by
inventors as a result of these new rights on the incentive to invest in research on projects which are
aimed at a global market. Second is the effect on incentives to invest in projects of particular interest
to India. And finally there is the effect of granting product patents on the amount of pharmaceutical
R&D that takes place in India, either within government or academic institutions, MNC subsidiaries or
Since it is difficult to anticipate the size of the profits which will be obtained by patentees as a
result of product patents (see Section IV on price changes and Section V on the distribution of profit)
and since we do not know very much about the elasticity of R&D investment in response to increased
returns, it is difficult to guess whether the first effect will be significant. Given the enormous disparity
in mean incomes between the developed countries and the LDCs, and given the small proportion of
higher-income households within the LDCs, the contribution of profits coming from the LDC markets
will probably be initially a quite small addition to total global profits (as suggested in Figure A). Table 7
shows that expenditure per capita in India compared to a range of other countries is extremely low.
However, this may be set to change. India has a huge population and even with very low expenditures
per capita was already, in 1995, the 12th largest pharmaceuticals market in the world. (And this is
with, it is claimed, only 30% of the population consuming allopathic medicines.) A possible loosening
of restrictions on the insurance market is under discussion in the government and private insurance
may be available in the next few years. One Indian executive said that his firm had an agreement
already set up with an American insurance company interested in entering the Indian market and
suggested that another Indian firm had a similar arrangement with a second American insurance
company. Given the low starting level, there is much scope for increased pharmaceutical consumption
in India as incomes grow and medical insurance becomes more prevalent. Thus, with a long time
horizon, it might be the case that the introduction of product patent protection in India will have more
than a negligible impact on new drug discovery.
It is possible to be more optimistic on the second point. The demand patterns of consumers in
the group of countries now introducing product patents are quite different from those of the developed
countries. For drug therapies relevant to LDCs, the incremental incentive generated by product patents
may be significant even in the short run. There are two senses in which a drug therapy may be
particularly relevant to India and to the LDCs as a group. First, disease patterns are quite different.
Table 8 shows the diseases for which 99% or more of the global burden is in low- and middle-income
countries (where burden is defined as the number of disability adjusted life years, or DALYs, lost to the
disease. This includes years lived with disabilities as well as premature mortality.) Although India
shares the diseases important in developed countries, and will increasingly as the population grows more
wealthy, vast numbers of Indians also suffer from diseases, such as malaria and leprosy, which the
developed world is largely free of.16 Another sense in which particular therapies can be relevant is in
the cost/efficiency tradeoff. Even within disease categories which are also of interest to developed
countries, drug discoveries which have the potential to be very cost effective but not as effective
overall may not be acceptable in those markets and hence not developed and commercialized in the
Currently almost all research on drugs for diseases prevalent in the LDCs is done either by
internationally-funded organizations or the military in the developed countries and it is a very small
part of world pharmaceutical R&D investment. For example, of the 56 billion dollars spent on health-
related R&D worldwide, only 0.2% is on pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases and TB, diseases which between
them represent 18% of the global disease burden (WHO, 1996). In Barral's (1990) study of NCEs
marketed commercially in the seven major industrialized markets between 1975 and 1989, only eight
of 775 were specific to tropical diseases, and two of these were discovered in U.S. army laboratories.
By contrast, the UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical
Diseases has developed 78 products in the past 19 years, 24 of which are already in use and of which
another 35 are in clinical or field trials (Scrips, 1995). Although purchasing power in India, and the
other LDCs, is low, the sheer size of this potential market may, once patent protection is available,
make investing in drug discovery projects with primary markets in the LDCs sufficiently profitable that
The example of orphan drugs may be instructive. In the early 1980s there was discussion in the
U.S. about the problem of drugs which had been discovered but were not being developed and marketed
by firms because they were useful only to a small population of sufferers. They were termed orphans
because of the discoverers' lack of interest in these unprofitable drug candidates. In 1983, a bill was
passed which offered firms seven years of market exclusivity for drugs with a potential market of fewer
16 Even within diseases there can be differences in incidence. For example, AIDs cases in developingcountries are the result of HIV which is a subtype different than the subtype common in the Westwhich is the subject of vast amounts of R&D spending (WHO, 1996).
than 200,000 patients, even when a patent would otherwise not be available, as well as subsidies for
testing. Although there is room for abusing this policy by carefully designing target populations so as
to classify a drug as an orphan, there is no doubt that this legislation lead to a surge in investment in
drugs which were legitimate orphans and which would not have been developed otherwise. In the decade
before 1983 there were ten drugs for rare diseases approved by the U.S FDA. In the decade after
passage of the Orphan Drug Act, 99 such drugs were approved, and 189 were reported to be under
clinical testing in 1992 (BCG, 1996).
Perhaps the most difficult question is the last. Will the introduction of product patents lead to
more R&D being done in India? For MNCs, strong intellectual property laws are certainly a pre-
requisite for the choice to locate pharmaceutical R&D facilities in a country. A survey of U.S. firms
conducted by Edwin Mansfield found that IPRs are very important to pharmaceutical MNCs when
making decisions about R&D locations, less so for finishing generic drugs (United Nations, 1993).
Currently, India fails on this count. India was the country most frequently cited by corporate
respondants as having intellectual property laws too weak to permit investment in the chemicals
(including pharmaceuticals) sector (Mansfield, 1994). In recent years, Hoechst has been the only MNC
with a subsidiary doing basic research in India (with a focus on natural products). The only other
example is Ciba-Geigy, which had a basic R&D facility located in India from 1963-1989. That said,
even more than in the case of manufacturing facilities, granting and enforcing intellectual property
rights is likely to be far from sufficient to attract MNC investment. R&D tends to be quite centralized.
For example, Pfizer has R&D centers outside of the U.S. in only four, developed, countries--the U.K.,
France, Germany and Japan--compared to manufacturing plants in 65 countries, of which 21 are in
It is frequently argued by proponents of the TRIPs accord that India, once new, WTO-
consistent, intellectual property laws are in place, will be very attractive as a location for R&D because,
by locating in India, firms can take advantage of a sizable pool of low-cost and technically skilled labor
to escape part of the great expense of drug discovery and development. They point to the rapid
growth in the Indian software industry, centered in the city of Bangalore, where a very large number of
MNCs have located part of their software development. However, a head office R&D executive from
a pharmaceutical MNC emphasized in an interview that cost is not a main consideration in their
location decisions, even for development research. Further, it is not even clear that real costs are that
much lower in India. Interviewees said that although customs restrictions on the import of equipment
had been eased in recent years, this still posed a problem. A manager at one firm noted that they have
an employee permanently stationed at the Bombay port to deal with 'time-sensitive' imports such as
mice. While much of the equipment in R&D labs is now available from Indian suppliers, precision
equipment is still imported and the difficulty and time necessary to obtain parts and servicing on
foreign-made equipment was claimed by one interviewee as their biggest disadvantage in running a
research lab. Even labor, while cheaper than in the West, does not appear greatly so. In one interview,
a scientist just returning from graduate school and then five years at one of the U.S. National Institutes
of Health, when asked about relative salaries, said that starting salaries were quite different: $4,500 in
India against $35-40,000 for a comparably skilled person in the U.S. His own salary, however, he
judged to be at least a quarter of the salary of someone at a comparable level in the U.S. In an
interview at another Indian firm the same story emerged. Starting salaries for research scientists were
judged to be about 20% of those in the U.S., but approaching 50% at higher levels. In many firm
interviews it was also noted that salaries for researchers are increasing quickly. Taken together, the
fact that costs are not their prime concern and the fact that the cost of doing R&D in India does not
actually appear to be dramatically lower than elsewhere suggest that there is no reason to expect that
the introduction of product patents will encourage MNCs to locate R&D facilities for discovery
On the other hand, the story may well be different for Indian firms. In a paper which considers
the likely response of Indian firms to obtaining the ability to purchase foreign technologies, Fikkert
(1994) estimates that domestic R&D efforts would decline, but to very modest degree. In line with the
efficency gains to be expected from licensing, he estimates that the switch to greater reliance on
purchased technologies would be associated with a large increase in the productivity of domestic firms.
Looking at the domestic pharmaceutical sector today, a handful of firms have already begun
increasing their total investment in R&D (from about 1-2% of sales to 5-6% of sales in the past few
years). More significantly, some of them are beginning to allocate a part of that investment to the
search for new molecules rather than imitative process development research. And there are signs that
they will be successful in this new direction. As discussed in the previous section, the Indian firms have
already demonstrated great expertise at rapidly devising new processes for patent products. A
particularly dramatic example is Ranbaxy's development in 1991, after 20 million dollars and three
years of effort, of a new process for producing Eli Lilly's patented drug cefaclor. In the words of a
Ranbaxy executive, "56 processes were under patent (with Lilly) and we found the 57th" (interview).
Since Eli Lilly's product patent for cefaclor expired in 1992 and the firm was expecting to protect its
monopoly with process patents which were due to expire only in 1994, this gave great scope for a
mutually advantageous agreement between the two companies.17 A series of 50:50 joint ventures
followed in the wake of Eli Lilly's recognition of Ranbaxy's superior research capabilities.
This was, of course, an example of process development. A few companies have also been
successful in discovering new products. For example, Reddy's Research Foundation, a separately
constituted research center established in 1992 which is part of Dr. Reddy's Group, only works on the
discovery of new molecules. In June of 1995 they filed their first two product applications in the U.S.
(anti-cancer and anti-diabetes substances) and now have ten more patent applications in developed
countries. Dabur also has a self-standing research foundation which is 50% devoted to doing discovery
research related to anti-cancer drugs. To date they have submitted two patent applications in the U.S.
and two more in the U.K. (interviews).
An important aspect of the R&D being done by MNC subsidiaries and Indian firms in India is
the extent of sub-contracting. Discovering a new molecule and bringing it to market involves many
stages. Sub-contracting allows firms to focus initially on the parts of the process in which they have
gained a comparative advantage. Organizing R&D through networks of research collaborations and
joint ventures is becoming increasingly common with the advent of biotechnology firms. Commonly,
biotechnology firms supply ideas, compounds, therapies, and applied research outcomes, while large
pharmaceutical partners supply complementary research capabilities (where economies of scale are
important), large-scale development and marketing. (See Gambardella, 1995, for examples of the
complexity of these networks.) Most of the Indian subsidiaries of foreign MNCs interviewed said that
they did some, and expected to do more, development work for their home offices. Several were very
close to having their clinical testing results approved by the home office for use in U.S. FDA
submissions. Recently, Hoffman-La Roche and Smithkline Beecham have sought approval from the
Indian government to establish wholly-owned subsidiaries for R&D projects, in the latter case to
develop new and existing Beecham vaccines (Government of India, 1994a and 1995).
For an Indian firm taking the first steps towards new molecule discovery, the ability to lower
costs by sub-contracting or by joining up with foreign firms in research joint ventures, is particularly
17 The magnitude of this achievement is brought out by this comment made by Eli Lilly’sPharmaceuticals President in February 1991, emphazing the protection offered by a difficultproduction process and a patent on a late stage intermediate: ”when all factors are considered Ceclor(cefaclor) should ‘remain a viable product for Eli Lilly beyond expiration of the patent’”. And theResearch Labs President: “‘The Ceclor synthetic route is so long and so complex’ that it will bedifficult to duplicate.’a legal end-run seems extremely improbable.’” (quoted in OTA, 1993).
important. A surprising array of agreements have already been made. For example, Wockhardt just
established a joint venture with Rhein Biotech GmbH, Germany, to do research in India on
biotechnology products. One of Ranbaxy's joint ventures with Eli Lilly will be based in India and
involved in development work. Cipla undertakes custom synthesis under secrecy agreements. Dabur is
in discussions with a U.K. company about doing development work for them. Two of the firms
involved in discovery research send compounds to Daiichi, Japan, for screening. Compounds which
look promising are pursued by the Indian firm and may result in a joint patent. In an interesting twist,
Reddy's Research Foundation has an arrangement with a Swiss firm whereby Reddy's sends them
interesting compounds which the Swiss firm then develops.
What is not obvious is what the importance of Indian product patents will be in encouraging
this process, given that product patents are already available to Indian inventors in much of the rest of
the world. The cooperative R&D arrangements described above were made between Indian and foreign
firms without product patents being available in India. Scherer and Weisbrot (1994) point out that
Switzerland was a leading originator of important new drugs even in the period before it began granting
product patents. Interviewed executives of R&D intensive Indian firms were all very clear that their
target market for new drug discovery research is one hundred percent global. They are concentrating
their efforts on drugs for important developed country diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, where U.S.
FDA marketing approval is quick and even a moderately important discovery is likely to have a
The availability of patents in India may be important for encouraging innovation by smaller
Indian firms and may facilitate contracting in the development of products for the local market. The
advantage is that it will allow a firm to obtain a priority date with an Indian patent application at a cost
far below a foreign application: $300-400 in India versus about $6,000 for a U.S. patent (interviews).
A government official in the Dept of Biotechnology (DoB) described how the department had helped
researchers apply for foreign patents (four thus far), in order to help them overcome the cost hurdle.
He noted, however, that for products with a more limited local market, where a foreign patent would
not be useful, the lack of patent protection in India was a stumbling block in getting innovations to
market. Companies interested in commercializing DoB innovations were held back because, without
patents, the DoB could not guarantee them exclusivity (Ghosh, 1996).
In the end, however, perhaps the main reason for thinking that the introduction of product
patents in India will increase the amount of innovative R&D done by Indian firms has nothing to do
with the traditional explanation based on enhanced returns. It is simply that they will soon be
prevented from following a strategy which has been profitable, imitation, and must switch to something
IX. Concluding Comments
It is too soon to draw any strong conclusions about what the effects will be of India’s upcoming
introduction of product patents for pharmaceuticals. In answer to the question posed in the title:
“exploitation of the poor?” the answer is probably no--if nothing else because the “poor” in India are
too poor to consume pharmaceuticals, even under the current regime. For the 70% or so of the
population who currently does not have access to pharmaceuticals, the introduction of patent
protection, and any price effects that may follow, are irrelevant. We have also seen that, of the drugs
currently on the market, just under ten percent are on-patent in Europe. Extrapolating this percentage
into the future, which may itself be questionable, means that even if product patents result in
significantly higher prices, much of the pharmaceutical market will not be affected.
Considering only the part of the market which will be affected by the new regime, there are a
number of reasons for thinking that the low incomes of India’s consumers and the lack of medical
insurance will not ensure low prices, as is sometimes suggested. Firstly, the latter two features are
likely to begin to change in the next decade. Historical and cross-country evidence also does not give
confidence that this will be the case. And, perhaps most importantly, patent-owning firms may not
be setting prices to maximize profits in the Indian market. They maximize global profits, and the
politics of drug price regulation may dictate a limit to how low they will be willing to set prices in India.
Price control may also be ineffective in keeping down prices, since patent protection in combination
with both the transfer-price loophole and a possible threat to not supply give firms non-negligible
power in bargaining with the government over the price of patented drugs. Whatever eventuates, the
fact that the industry is very competitive today means that any monopoly profits obtained by patent-
owning firms once product patents become available can, with reasonable confidence, be attributed to
Indian firms are moving into the world generics market and, although the introduction of
product patents will cause them to lose their first-mover advantage, their low manufacturing costs will
continue to give them an advantage in competing for this market. It may become somewhat less
profitable, since speed into the market seems to be important, but there does not seem to be any reason
to expect that they will not be successful in increasing their participation in the generics sector. The
bulk of production for the domestic market is drugs which are not on-patent. As a result of these two
features, the introduction of product patents should not have a strong adverse affect on employment in
the industry or on the contribution of the pharmaceutical sector to the balance of payments.
The positive contribution of intellectual property comes in its dynamic effect on the creation
and diffusion of knowledge. Considering first the diffusion of information, it appears that Indian firms
are well able to access and information disclosed in patent specifications filed elsewhere. Since most
important pharmaceutical innovations will be patented internationally, there is likely to be little or no
additional benefit to be gained by Indians from specifications being filed domestically. In the case of
diffusion of products into the market, granting protection may speed diffusion, for the traditional
reason that having a monopoly position makes the process of adapting a product, getting marketing
approval, and introducing it to consumers profitable. However, there are also reasons to think that
giving patentees control over introductions may slow down diffusion. Currently Indian firms are quite
quick to bring imitations to the market. An MNC with a new patented drug may delay a launch in
India because of the concern over global price regulations noted above. If, for this reason, they
hesitate to introduce a drug at a low price in the initial years of global marketing, with imitators
prevented from entering because of the new patent law, innovative pharmaceuticals may actually
become available to Indian consumers more slowly.
Finally, there are several issues regarding the effect of product patents on discovery research.
It seems unlikely that, at the current levels of income in India, the profits to be made from having
monopoly rights in that country will add substantially to the profits already available in the world for
drugs which are of global interest. However, as discussed in the paper, very little R&D is done to
develop drug therapies for the set of diseases which are relevant to Indian consumers but which are not
important to consumers in developed countries. Almost all of it is done by government-funded
development institutions or by the military. For these drugs, the introduction of product patents in
India could create a substantial incremental increase in profits and encourage more commercial interest
The final question was whether the introduction of product patents will contribute to more
R&D being done in India. Although strong intellectual property rights are important to MNCs in
deciding where to locate R&D facilities, given the centralized nature of R&D and fact that costs are not
the paramount concern there does not seem to be any compelling reason for them to locate in India
even after product patents are available. Further, a number of MNCs are already increasing their use
of local subsidiaries to do development work. Although stronger intellectual property rights may make
the Indian environment more appealing to MNCs as a location for R&D, it is unlikely that product
patents will make a dramatic difference to their choices.
There is more reason to think that the upcoming introduction of product patents will make a
difference to the amount and type of R&D being done by Indian firms. Already the larger firms are
increasing their total R&D expenditure as a percentage of sales and they are beginning to move in the
direction of new molecule discovery rather then concentrating solely on development research. Given
that there is already patent protection available to Indian inventors in the rest of the world, if there is
a role for Indian product patents in encouraging this process it is not in the incentive effect, but rather
the fact that the strategy of imitation is being closed off. While some firms may not make the
transition, signs thus far suggest that a number of Indian firms will successfully weather the transition
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Onchocerciasis-river blindness [66 million]
Source: World Health Organization (1996); Number of sufferers, Barral (1990). Appendix Acknowledgements
The people listed below contributed generously of their time and insights to this project, which
I gratefully acknowledge. The welcome I received throughout my visit was remarkable. I also thank
the World Bank, and particularly the visiting mission staff of the New Delhi office, for a providing a
very supportive environment over the six months. I am grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for
contributing financial support. Finally I thank the colleagues around the world who patiently sent me
papers and documents and contributed their enthusiasm to this project. Indian Firms
Dr. K. Kaylan, ChairmanElder Pharmaceuticals, Ltd.
Mr. Dinesh B. Mody, DirectorJ.B. Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and President, Indian Drug Manufacturers Association
Dr. J.M. Khanna, Executive Vice PresidentResearch and DevelopmentRanbaxy Laboratories, Ltd.
Mr. R. Vasant Kumar, General ManagerStrategic PlanningRanbaxy Laboratories Ltd.
Dr. O. P. Sood, Vice PresidentMedical Affairs and Clinial ResearchRanbaxy Research Laboratories
Dr. Anand C. Burman, DirectorDabur India Ltd.
Dr. Praveen Khullar, ManagerResearch and DevelopmentDabur Research Foundation
Mr. A. Venkat, PresidentDr. Reddy's Research Foundation, R&D Centre
Dr. S. Padmaja, ScientistR&D CoordinatorDr. Reddy's Research Foundation, R&D Centre
Dr. Anand Apte, Vice PresidentTechnology and ProjectsLupin Laboratories Ltd.
Mr. Romit Chaterji, Vice PresidentCorporate CommunicationsLupin Laboratories Ltd
Dr. Y.K. Hamied, Managing DirectorCIPLA Ltd. MNCs and Subsidiaries
Mr. M.N. Karani, ChairmanHindustan Ciba-Geigy Ltd.
Mr. R. Raghu Kumar, Executive Vice PresidentHealth CareBayer (India) Ltd.
Mr. Debabrata Bhadury, Managing DirectorHoechst Marion Roussel Ltd.
Mr. Homi R. Khusrokhan, Managing DirectorGlaxo India Ltd.
Dr. Richa Chandra, ManagerScientific and Public AffairsPfizer Ltd (India)
Dr. George Milne, PresidentCentral ResearchPfizer Inc. (U.S.)
Dr. P. Das GuptaDrugs Controller General of IndiaDirectorate General of Health Services
Mr. D.P.S. Parmar, Assistant Controller of Patents and DesignsPatent Office, Delhi Branch
Mr. V. Natarajan, ChemexcilMinistry of Commerce
Department of BiotechnologyGovernment of India
Dr. T.V. Ramanaiah, Principal Scientific OfficerDept of Biotechnology
Mr. Vinay Kumar, Joint AdvisorDepartment of Scientific and Industrial ResearchGovernment of India
Mr. Pravin Anand, AdvocateAnand & Anand, New Delhi
Mr. Dara P. Mehta, AdvocateLittle & Company, Bombay
Mr. R.D. Joshi, Secretary GeneralOrganisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India
Mr. P.S. KhannaResident Director, New DelhiOrganisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India
Dr. Sohan Nayyar, PresidentDelhi Pharmacy CouncilDLH State Chemists AssociationAll India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists
Mr. B.K. Keayla, ConvenorNational Working Group on Patent Laws
Appendix II Patent Legislation I. Indian Patent Act of 1970 versus GATT Patent Act
agrochemicals. Only process patents.
All patents have a term of at least 20 years from
statutory term limit of the shorter of 7 years
from application or 5 years from granting.
3. Government retains wide powers to grant
No automatic licenses. Compulsory licenses
(non-exclusive) compulsory licenses 3 years
only in cases of national emergency, for public
non-commercial use, or to remedy a practice
pharmaceuticals, licenses are automatic, i.e.
with no consideration of local working by the
patentee or the ability of the licensee to
license may be granted only after a license
sought on commercial terms from the patentee
and remuneration should reflect the economic
cost of the license to the patentee.
No discrimination between domestic production
5. In all cases, the burden of proof in an
In the case of process patents, the burden of
infringement case falls on the patentee.
proof lies with the alleged infringer. (Reversal ofthe burden of proof.)
Source: Iyer, et. al. (1996). II. Recent Events and Future Changes
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