Monday's Supreme Court ruling, denying Novartis' claim to a patent on its leukemia drug is an important victory. The court decided that the patent application was not based on any new innovation.
The SC ruling throws that out, and sets a much higher bar for patents. Below that bar, companies are free to copy and sell generics at much lower prices (in the case of Glivec, 1/35th of the price).
However, there is one aspect that is not so straightforward. India may claim a national interest in making life saving drugs available cheaply to Indians but it is not clear why this should allow companies to make generics in India and export them to other countries using India's internal logic.
If those other countries want life saving drugs let them also set higher standards for patents. Without that, it would lead to a situation in other countries where the people are overcharged by Indian pharma instead of Swiss or American pharma.
Pharma companies in the West claim that today's ruling would lead to a lot less investment in research in India. I don't believe that. For one, it's not as if companies are spending their own money in research.
A lot of it is grant money from various governments to universities. Second, perhaps it's time for the Indian government too to start looking at how it can fund meaningful research here at home, so that the dependence on the imported stuff is reduced.
The pre-generic life of many high priced drugs is several years, and each year shaved off that could save millions of lives in India.
(The writer is President of Loksatta Party, Karnataka)