"We call upon the prime minister, during his visit to the US, not to make any legal or political commitment that compromises flexibilities in the Indian Patents Act for facilitating access to medicines and safeguarding public health, which is based on policies and principles approved by Indian Parliament and is fully consistent with international laws," the group of individuals and organisations convened by the National Working Group on Patent Laws said in a statement.
Basing their apprehensions on Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's statement earlier this month that the government would roll out a revised policy on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), the citizens' group rebutted Sitharaman's claim that India does not have an IPR policy.
"The statement made by the minister that India does not have an IPR policy is not true. The current Indian IP legal regime represents the policy framework on IPRs which was adopted after considerable debate inside and outside parliament," the National Working Group on Patent Laws' said.
"The strength of this IPR policy is reflected well in the successful establishment of the Indian pharmaceutical industry within three decades," it added.
The citizens' groups pointed out that, while until 1995, the Indian Patents Act, 1970, limited patent protection to process innovations, after 1995, the success of the pharmaceutical industry was ensured by parliament's decision to take full benefit of the transition period of 10 years available under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).
Pointing out that the country needs a patent regime that can facilitate "technology catch-up" and industrialisation, the statement said: "An Intellectual Property (IP) regime that favours transnational companies would act contrary to the prime minister's efforts to revive the manufacturing sector in India."
Indian law requires that patented inventions are available to the public at affordable prices as well as obligates the patent holders to work their patents in India.
The US continues to target India's patent system and has increased pressure on India, the statement said.
"While the US administration has been hostile towards India's sovereign laws because they run contrary to the interests of US-based pharmaceutical companies, it has not prevented US-based pharmaceutical companies from operating in India. They are also able to patent products that are patentable under the Indian Act," it added.
In talks here last week between Commerce Secretary Rajeev Kher and Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, the US side sought to form a working group at the secretary level to resolve its concerns over India's IPR laws.
However, an official source told IANS that India is reluctant to accept the US proposal and has instead proposed meetings at the joint secretary or additional secretary level from both sides on specific issues.