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Trade group seeks more U.S. pressure on India over patent protection

A patient holds free medicine in Chennai July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Babu
A patient holds free medicine in Chennai July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Babu

By Bill Berkrot

(Reuters) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday called on the government to ratchet up pressure on India over intellectual property rights, in a move that could help prevent Indian companies from producing cheap generic versions of medicines still under patent protection.

In a submission to the Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Chamber of Commerce requested that India be classified a Priority Foreign Country, a tag given to the worst offenders when it comes to protecting intellectual property, and one that could trigger trade sanctions.

India is currently on the U.S. government's Priority Watch List for countries whose practices on protecting intellectual property Washington believes should be monitored closely.

In its new submission, the Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) of the Chamber of Commerce said: "We highlight India as a country with particular challenges with respect to intellectual property protections."

"Because India has not shown a record of engagement on these issues and the environment has deteriorated significantly since last year, we are now recommending that India be designated a Priority Foreign Country," it said.

The perspective from India is that many patented drugs are too costly for most people. The government in New Delhi is pushing to increase access to life-saving treatments where only 15 percent of 1.2 billion people are covered by health insurance.

India received the lowest score in the trade group's IP Index released last week, performing poorly in all six of its rating categories - patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and market access, enforcement, and membership and ratification of international treaties.

The U.S. industry trade group for drugmakers, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), is scheduled to detail its concerns about India and other countries to the U.S. Trade Representative later on Friday.

The recommendations are for a document known as a Special 301 Report, which is prepared annually by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

It is quite possible that PhRMA will also recommend placing India on the worst offenders' list based on concerns of many of its member companies.

The industry push for a tougher line on India was first revealed in a Reuters report on Thursday, although at least one member, British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline , has called for constructive engagement with Indian officials rather than a harder line stance.

Calls for turning up the pressure on India come at a time when an Indian government committee is reviewing patented medicines sold by foreign drugmakers to see if so-called compulsory licenses, which in effect break exclusivity rights, can be issued for some of them in an effort to bring down costs, two senior government officials told Reuters.

The drugs being considered for such patent-breaking licenses are used for treating cancer, diabetes, hepatitis and HIV, said the sources, declining to give details. No timeline has been given for completion of the India review process.

(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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