Patent Law in Times of Pandemic: Ensuring Affordable Access of Drugs to All

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, is hopeful of developing a COVID-19 vaccine by October/November this year: CEO Adar Poonawala. (Photo Credits: Bloomberg)

Avinash Kumar, NUSRL

Anushka Sarathe, NUSRL


This article seeks to understand the various ramifications of patent laws worldwide and its implications in India concerning drugs and potential vaccines for COVID 19. It also tries to analyse from a legal point of view, the different elective approaches that have been accessible to Gilead and other expected partners to guarantee reasonable access of Remdesivir, and the inspiration towards embracing voluntary licensing models. It seeks to understand if intellectual property (IP) protection will be a hindrance to affordable drugs to all. At last, authors have laid out numerous options at the disposal of Indian Pharmaceutical Companies and the government for the welfare of masses at large.


Today, as the worldwide scientific and research community down has geared upon finding a possible drug against the novel Coronavirus, the conspicuous inquiry that emerges is of access to affordable drugs and clinical gear. With the high venture required in drug discovery and pharmaceutical research, by and large, the debate goes typically to the profits on such interest amid a general wellbeing emergency as the one being confronted today.

India, fortunately, has specific provisions under the Patent Act, 1970 that permits the Central Government to assume control over any patent that can be useful in a territory of National crisis or conditions of extraordinary desperation[i] and allows the Central Government to authorise any third party to use the invention for the public purpose.[ii] The provision on the mandatory permit can likewise be benefited if a potential IP is useful in a condition of general well being emergency or against any pandemic.[iii] In India, patent rights can be revoked in exceptional circumstances, to maintain a delicate balance between the monopoly rights enjoyed by the patentee and the right to health as guaranteed under Article 21.[iv]

IP Acting as a Roadblock to Economical Drug

The circumstances around COVID-19 has prompted developments in – particularly – clinical gear. Some current medications have likewise been appeared to have positive responses to the infection. These ‘disclosures’ regularly have would, in general, be coincidentally, and simply by method of a reaction to the crisis circumstance. Notably, a considerable lot of these gear advancements or optional employments of existing medications are ensured by a type of IP, is at least one wards. Now and again, IP proprietors have likewise taken steps to seek after legitimate activity against people recognised as infringers. In the ordinary course of things, such advancements or disclosures would have followed patent methodology and acquired autonomous assurance. The idea of the current crisis circumstance has prompted the developments and medications being put available sooner than they would somehow or another have, and without a due determination on the IP assurances encompassing them.

Remdesivir, is a novel antiviral medication. The drug was initially developed as a cure for Filovirus infections and has been patented by Gilead Lifesciences in many countries, including India.[v] It is viewed as one of the most encouraging medications, which can be utilised for treatment against COVID-19.[vi] The medication works by hindering the infection’s capacity to duplicate itself inside cells. Already, lab and creature examinations have shown the medication’s viability against SARS and MERS, two other respiratory ailments welcomed on by coronavirus diseases. Another expected medication against COVID-19 is Favipiravir, which is utilised to treat RNA infections, similar to SARS-CoV-2. The medication has been utilised by China for rewarding patients in Shenzhen who had been detected positive for COVID-19 and found that patients given this medication tried negative four days after the fact. During a preliminary in Wuhan, the medication has been accounted for to abbreviate the length of patients’ fever from a normal of 4.2 days to 2.5 days.

Both these medications are by patents ensured in India. The patent allowed to Remdesivir will undoubtedly terminate in 2035. Favipiravir is a piece of five licenses in India, just one of whose term has lapsed. Under Sections 92(3), 100, and 102 of the Patent Act, 1970, the Indian government can give obligatory licenses against these licenses and take into account the production of the protected particle. Be that as it may, such a move would be against the oral affirmation given to the United States in regards to not allowing any necessary licenses on prescriptions during US-India Business Council, 2016.

Indeed, even as developments appear to be blockaded by IP in some manner, yet there are more seasoned medications like hydroxychloroquine, with a lapsed patent that has enormous conventional assembling and fare.

Guaranteeing Access to COVID-19 Medications

There is a worldwide acknowledgement of the significance to guarantee reasonable access to medications and clinical gear in the battle against COVID-19. A few organisations are either not authorising licenses, or not looking for patent assurance by any means.[vii] Numerous administrations over the world are giving obligatory licenses to guarantee the medications to be not IP ensured. 

Gilead, the engineer of Remdesivir, at first concerned US controllers for “orphan status” for the medication. Under US IP law, pharmaceutical organisations that create medicines for ailments that influence less than 200,000 individuals appreciate showcase elatedness for a long time.[viii] In any case, seeing the open backfire, Gilead renounced the application for orphan status.

On March 15, Canada passed a COVID-19 bill that permits the legislature to make and utilise protected innovations varying in battling the pandemic. Governments in Chile, Ecuador, Germany, and Israel have made comparative strides. Seeing the reaction of these nations, the Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders declared “no licenses or profiteering on medications, tests or immunisations” for COVID-19.

Empowering Research for Vaccine and Medication

The government can offer solid motivating forces, for example, patent buyouts to medicate producers. In a buyout, the administration buys the licenses on another medication generally at a value that matches or surpasses what the patent holder, in any case, would have earned. From that point, the administration permits creators of generics to deliver and sell ease variants. If, for instance, clinical preliminaries build up the adequacy of Remdesivir in rewarding COVID-19, at that point the government should purchase the US rights to the medication from Gilead and give conventional makers let loose rein to slope creation.

Another route for compensating advancement while guaranteeing across the board access to new advances might be through an opposition. The administration and worldwide associations may propose a weighty prize for a successful coronavirus immunisation for every inoculated individual. That would conceivably make a COVID-19 antibody beneficial, in this manner empowering private companies and specialists to work more enthusiastically.

Such ventures may prompt a transitory monetary shortage yet to contain COVID-19 now and different pandemics, later on, such long-haul speculations should be made. Of the considerable number of costs that society will bear in light of this infection, the pay-out to pharmaceutical organisations will be minuscule.

Possible Alternatives for Indian Pharmaceutical Companies And The Government

From a political stance, if it somehow happened to concede CLs, India would confront massive weight from worldwide fora, where it is appropriately viewed as a suitable ward for mass-scale production of the medication to satisfy neighbourhood and worldwide prerequisites. Allowing a CL and successfully rendering trifling the patentee’s privileges in a situation like the present would make more mischief than advantage India’s worldwide picture without promising any additions of access to the medication. The conceivable preferred position of a CL is that valuing would be constrained by the Government; in any case, value control can likewise be accomplished through different methods as examined later in this article.

The following are a progression of elective methodologies including the Central Government, which incorporate an announcement by the Central Government that the Remdesivir licenses are topic of a ‘national crisis’, or ‘conditions of outrageous direness’ or ‘open non – business use’, because of which CLs should be conceded whenever after the award of the patent. This gets rid of the multi-year ban on a CL as examined previously. Following such a notice, people intrigued may apply to the Controller for a CL, and CLs might be conceded for such people or elements. Aside from this, the Central Government additionally has the ability to repudiate a patent that is being practised in a way devilish to the state or by and large biased to people in general. The impact of such a disavowal is that Gilead would lose all rights over the licenses, and the licenses would be available to one and all to abuse as they wish. Another arrangement in the law likewise permits the Central Government or any individual approved by it to utilise the licensed innovation for the ‘motivations behind the administration’. It would be viewed as judicious for the Government to make any of these strides just in extraordinary conditions. Such an event has not emerged as even before the declaration of the authorising bargains, Gilead had been in dynamic dealings with different substances since the principal period of COVID-19, in this way indicating positive strides towards making the medication accessible.

A third option key choice lays on the shoulders of Indian pharma organisations who could decide to dispatch the medication ‘in danger’, which means in this manner that at least one Indian pharma organisation could take the choice to mock Gilead’s privileges in the licenses for availability and moderateness of the medication for the general population on the loose. In the normal course, a since quite a while ago drawn and costly suit would follow, wherein Gilead would state its licenses, and the resistances taken by the Defendant Indian organisations would commonly incorporate that Gilead’s licenses are invalid and unpatentable, that Gilead didn’t find a way to make the medication accessible to people in general, and that moderate access is foremost. For Courts choosing these issues, it is crucial to find some kind of harmony between patent rights and access to medication at moderate estimating. Law demonstrates that guards mounted absolutely on open intrigue have fizzled previously, and Courts require a sound test to the legitimacy of licenses to be brought up in request to permit outsiders to produce and market sedates in broad daylight premium.

The fourth, and seemingly the most business-like key measure accessible to Gilead and the Indian pharma organisations is a progression of permitting bargains, what might be known as wilful authorising under the plan of patent law in India. Such a deliberate permit (VL) is likened to an agreement, represented by the standard terms of agreement law, aside from specific conditions forced by patent law. For the most part, VLs are progressively the most appropriate strategy in developing patent frameworks undoubtedly as they successfully get rid of all the above antagonistic advances, and guarantee reasonable access to medication in the briefest conceivable period. Concerning the licensees, going into VLs guarantees assembling and deal, and subsequent access to medication is practically ensured. The outsider in this bipartite understanding, that is the patient body and people in general everywhere, develops triumphant as it increases quick, reasonable access. Therefore, all partners remain to pick up.


During emergencies like this, we urgently need to discover answers to issues that are emerging currently to be more ready for what is to come. For instance, should nations utilise obligatory permitting just as a temporary measure for this pandemic, as Canada and some different nations are doing, or would it be a good idea for them to standard authoritatively for all general wellbeing emergencies as a rule? What is the idea of motivations required for organisations to get them to create immunisations or clinical hardware for general medical issues without settling on quality or reasonableness? These are on the whole open-finished inquiries, with different conceivable functional arrangements. The setting will matter, as will asset accessibility, and administration. This is a unique open door for all partners in the general wellbeing area to have a genuine effect on the lives of individuals. We can dare to dream that they cooperate to the most significant advantage of humankind. A voluntary license would turn into a triumph against our new imperceptible adversary just if all stakeholders shift gears from “we cannot bear to help” to “we cannot manage the cost of not to”.

Avinash Kumar and Anushka Sarathe are students at NUSRL, Ranchi.

Photo Credits: Bloomberg

[i] Section 100 of the Patent Act,1970

[ii] Section 102 of the Patent Act,1970

[iii] Section 92(3) of the Patents Act, 1970

[iv] Section 83(b), (e) and (g) of the Patent Act, 1970.

[v] Indian Patent No. 332280 titled COMPOUNDS FOR TREATING FILOVIRIDAE INFECTIONS, granted on 18/02/2020


[vii] The Open COVID Pledge




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