12,000 PATENT APPLICATIONS, WOULD BE OPENED ON JANUARY 1st

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Nearly 12,000 patent applications, a majority of them from multinational pharma companies, would be opened by the government on January 1 as the government has complied its with World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations by issuing an ordinance to bring about product patents for chemicals, agrochemicals and food sectors.

Rules for operation of product patents would be notified soon on the basis of the ordinance. The applications are lying in the 'mailbox' provided by the government for submission of applications in the run-up to the introduction of product patents.

Commerce & industry minister Kamal Nath said that patents based on the mailbox applications would be awarded only with prospective effect. The patent will be available from the day of award and not the day of application.

"We have specifically provided that patent rights for mailbox applications will only be available prospectively. We have made these changes after wide consultation, and we feel that these considerably improve the proposals," he said.

Current estimates are that it will take up to 30 months to process these applications. The government feels that all the applications would not be pursued and it will take a couple for years to award patents.
The new provision introduced to circumscribe rights in respect of mailbox applications to prospective effect will protect local manufacturers from unfair charges, said Mr Nath.

Even if a local producer manufactures a product for which patent is granted, the liability will be limited to the period after the grant of the patent.

Once the mailbox is opened, the list will be published and the all stakeholders will get an opportunity to oppose any application. The government will consider all aspects including opposition or objections - if any - before taking a final decision.

The government has introduced a number of safeguards and prices of pharmaceuticals will not shoot up, Mr Kamal Nath said. Only 3% of the drugs produced in India now are patented, the minister added while defending the new patent regime.

On the other hand, he claimed better options would be available as research & development would be encouraged by the new regime.

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