India’s Intellectual Property Policy and Human Rights

Last week, the Indian government released its much awaited National Intellectual Property Rights Policy. As stated in the document, the rationale behind the policy ‘lies in the need to create awareness about the importance of  IPRs as a marketable financial asset and economic tool.’ This rationale is clearly reflected in some of the objectives contained in the policy. The objectives of the policy include, creating public awareness about the economic, social and cultural benefits of IPRs among all sections of society; stimulating the generation of IPRs; getting value for IPRs through commercialization; and strengthening the enforcement and adjudicatory mechanisms for combating IPR infringements. These objectives will hopefully go a long way in pacifying the USA and multinational pharmaceutical companies.

To be sure, one of the objectives of the policy is to have strong and effective IPR laws which balance the interests of rights owners with the larger public interest. However, the main thrust of the policy seems to be aimed at the generation, commercialization, and stronger protection of IPRs in India. I do not intend to provide a critical assessment of the entire policy here. I think Professor Shamnad Basheer has done a very good job in that regard here.

My goal here is to highlight one critical omission in the policy i.e. the failure to include a human rights perspective. It is surprising that the policy fails to discuss the relationship and tension between intellectual property rights and human rights. For a country where there are several patients struggling to have access to essential medicines, this is a significant omission. As noted in an earlier blog post, an earlier draft version of India’s IP policy prepared by a government think-tank  had noted that, “[the] right to health is an integral part of the right to life enshrined in the Constitution of India” and that “India is committed to providing its citizens access to affordable medicines, quality healthcare and innovative products and services.” The final version of the policy that was published last week by the Indian government however contains no reference to the right to health or to any other human right for that matter.

In my view, this omission further reflects the fact that the policy is aimed at the generation, commercialization, and stronger protection of IPRs in India. The policy is most likely aimed at pacifying certain actors that keep putting pressure on India with regard to its IP laws and policies. Let’s hope that this policy will pacify these particular actors.

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