SC tells govt to provide expert in Novartis’ patent appeal

SC tells govt to provide expert in Novartis’ patent appeal

Mumbai: The Supreme Court has asked the government to appoint an external patent expert as a technical member on the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, or IPAB, to hear Swiss drug maker Novartis AG’ appeal on patent refusal to its cancer drug Glivec.

The apex court’s directive was on a petition filed by Natco Pharma Ltd challenging a January 2007 decision by the Madras high court that allowed IPAB to hear the case without a technical member on the panel.

The commerce ministry’s department of industrial policy and promotions, which oversees the administration of India’s patent offices, has asked its four regional centres to send a list of experts, comprised mainly of patent agents, which are firms specializing in intellectual property rights law. The department is expected to pick one expert before the first week of October, when the case will be heard next.

In January 2006, the Chennai patents office refused Novartis a patent for its drug that has clocked $3.1 billion (Rs12,214 crore) in global sales. When the drug maker appealed to IPAB, the technical expert who was later appointed to the board was S. Chandrasekharan, a former patent controller, who held that position at the time when the patent was denied.

Novartis then appealed to the Madras high court which ruled in November 2007 that Novartis’ case at IPAB could be heard without a technical expert. The court’s decision had come after the government presented a formula under which the IPAB bench would consist of only chairman M.H.S. Ansari and vice-chairman Z.S. Negi.

However, Natco challenged that decision in the apex court in January this year, saying it would be difficult for the board to take a decision without an expert on the panel since the matter was technical and complicated. The Supreme Court had immediately stayed the IPAB hearing.