Mumbai: The Union government has told the Madras high court, which is hearing a petition filed by Swiss drug major Novartis AG challenging the appointment of former patent controller S. Chandrasekharan on the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), that it is ready to make a revision in the structure of the board.
Novartis is challenging the Chennai patent office’s decision to reject its patent application for Gleevec, a blood cancer drug, last year.
The rejection took place when Chandrasekharan was supervising India’s patent administration.
Novartis believes his presence on the board can be prejudicial and has asked the court’s help in seeking his removal from hearing the case.
The government has now proposed that the board will now comprise a chairman and a vice-chairman instead of a three-member panel.
The court agreed to consider the removal of the current technical member on the Gleevec patent appeal—who is Chandrasekharan—and invited written comments from both parties ahead of a 22 October hearing.
Chandrasekharan was inducted into the appellate board as a new technical member on patents in April.
Novartis’ patent application for a crystal form of the cancer drug imatinib mesylate was rejected by the Chennai patent office in 2006, citing that the Indian patent law does not allow patent exclusivity for derivatives or marginally innovated form of known drugs unless it is proved that it enhances the treatment value substantially.
Novartis’ challenge to this law was rejected in August by the Madras high court.
Gleevec was launched in India a few years ago. The drug was sold in the country at an estimated cost of Rs1,20,000 for a treatment cycle of six weeks, even as the copy versions made by local firms were priced at one-tenth of that.
When Novartis applied for patent in India, it was opposed by non-government organizations such as Lawyers Collective and local drug making companies including Cipla Ltd, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and Natco Pharma Ltd. The companies also joined the current court case.
“The appellate board can hear the matter with the chairman and the vice-chairman, without the technical member,” said Cipla’s legal counsel A. Ramesh Kumar.“If this formula is acceptable to everybody, then the court will pass a consent order, failing which the matter will be heard by the court on merits.”
A lawyer, who did not want to be named, said the Act says “there ought to be a technical member, so I am not sure if the government can really override it. Also, Novartis itself may not agree with the new revision and may insist on another technical member as only such a technical member, who is an expert in patents, may be capable of understanding the nuances of their case and their line of reasoning.”
G. Gopakumar Nair, a patent expert in Mumbai, said, “Since the government has not spelt out its plan to remove Chandrasekharan, one cannot say that it has retraced the steps. The government has only proposed a new constitution of the panel. Everyone is back discussing the proposal with their clients and a clear picture will emerge only later.”
A Novartis spokeswoman said, “We petitioned the Chennai court for a new technical member because we disagree with the appointment of the former controller general of the Indian patent office to the appellate board.”
Bhuma Shrivastava in New Delhi contributed to this story.