– By Apoorva Mishra
- The writ petitioner in the case was Bayer Corporation. The second respondent in the case was the DCGI and the third respondent was Cipla.
- The Indian Patent Office had granted the petitioner, patent number 215758 on 3 March 2008. Therefore, by virtue of Section 48 (rights of a patentee) of the Patents Act, Bayer got the exclusive right to prevent third parties, from the acts of making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the patented product in India, without its consent.
- Cipla then introduced a drug “Soranib” which was a substitute of its patented drug. Subsequently, on 31st July 2008 Bayer wrote to the DCGI requesting that marketing approval be not granted to Cipla for its drug “Soranib” as Bayer had the exclusive right to market the drug.
- It urged the DCGI to reject the representation of Cipla for grant of marketing approval for spurious adaptation of its patented drug “Sorafenib Tosylate”, as the same would contravene DCA.
- Also, Bayer wrote to Cipla asking it to confirm whether it had filed an application before DCGI for grant of marketing approval for a drug covering “sorafenib tosylate” but received no reply.
- Bayer filed the petition seeking directions to, inter alia, restrain grant of drug license in regard to an application by the third respondent for the license to manufacture, sell and distribute its drug ‘Soranib’. The petitioner claimed that the said drug was an imitation of, or substitute for, its patented drug.
ARGUMENTS BY BAYER
- The Petitioner contends that in the absence of an overriding provision in the Drugs Act, reinforces the intention of the legislature that its provisions of the Drugs Act are to be read in addition to the Patent laws and not to the contrary. Therefore, Section 2 of the Drugs Act have to be read in conformity with the Section 48 of the Patents Act which establishes a concept of “Patent Linkage” which imposes a burden on the Drug Controller to make sure that any of his decisions of granting market approval for a drug do not violate any law for the time being in force.
- The petitioner relies on Section 18 and Form 44 of the Drugs Act, which talks about mentioning of patent status of the drug. While making an application before the Drug Controller, CIPLA ought to have mentioned the subject Patent of Bayer. Therefore, by a mere reading of Form 44, and also by virtue of publication of grant of the subject patent, it would be well within the knowledge of the Drug Controller that the subject patent exists in relation to the product for which CIPLA has applied for consequently, if the marketing approval is granted, it will contravene the provisions of Section 17B of the Drugs Act, as well as the provisions of Section 48 of the Patent Act.
- The petitioner contends that the application of Cipla is for the license to manufacture, sell and distribute its drug “Soranib” which is an imitation of the Petitioners’ patented drug. The drug “Soranib”, being “spurious drug” as defined in Section 17B of the Drugs Act, the DCGI would not only be exceeding his jurisdiction but also give a decision which would be ultra vires Chapter IV of the Drugs Act.
ARGUMENTS BY CIPLA
- Cipla contends that Bayer’s claim for patent linkage, based on an interpretation of Section 2 of the Drugs Act is misleading, because the grant of drug regulatory approval by the DCGI cannot, by itself amount to a patent infringement.
- The existence of patent infringement cannot be assumed merely because the patentee states so, but has to be clearly established before a court of law in accordance with the infringement provisions mentioned under the Patents Act, 1970. Such an assessment is beyond the statutory powers of the DCGI, which is institutionally incapable of dealing with complex issues of patent scope, validity and infringement.
- Cipla states that Section 107A of the Patents Act, clearly exempts from patent infringement any of acts of making, using or even selling a patented invention, in so far as such acts are necessary to obtain information for the filing of a drug regulatory application before the DCGI.
- Cipla relied on the concept of “Bolar Provision” under Section 107A of the Patents Act which permits any drug manufacturer to experiment with any patented drug and is aimed at speeding up generic entry into the market and the availability of low cost drugs to the consumer.
- Cipla states that Section 19 of the Patents Act provides limited powers to the Controller. It may at its best only direct that a reference to the earlier patent be inserted but does not authorise the controller to deny the grant of the patent itself to the applicant. Hence, DCGI cannot assess the possibility of patent infringement and dent drug regulatory approval on such grounds.
- Cipla argued that the terms ‘limitation’ and ‘substitute’ in Section 17 B (b) cannot be read in isolation to the remainder of the sub-clause. The words ‘substitute for’ were to be read along with ‘in a manner likely to deceive’. The text of the said sub clause reveals that the same covers a situation where an individual is passing off his drug as that of another by way of using deceptive marks get-up or packaging and this did not include patents.
(1) Whether a combined reading of the Drugs Act and the Patents Act lead to the conclusion that no marketing approval can be granted to applicants for drugs or formulations, of which others are patent owners, by reason of Section 2 of the Drugs Act, read with Sections 48 and 156 of the Patents Act?
(2) Whether drugs or formulations which infringe patents are “spurious drugs” under the Drugs Act?
APPLICATION AND ANALYSIS
ISSUE 1 : Whether a combined reading of the Drugs Act and the Patents Act lead to the conclusion that no marketing approval can be granted to applicants for drugs or formulations, of which others are patent owners, by reason of Section 2 of the Drugs Act, read with Sections 48 and 156 of the Patents Act?
What is Patent Linkage?
Patent linkage is the practice of linking drug marketing approval to the patent status of the originator’s product and not allowing the grant of marketing approval to any third party prior to the expiration of the patent term, unless consented to by the patent owner. This creates a duty in favour of the Drugs Controller to ensure that marketing approval is not granted to generic manufacturers in cases where the drug is already covered by an existing patent.
Difference between the objectives of the Statutes
The Drugs Act is a public regulatory measure, prescribing standards of safety and good manufacture practices which are to be followed by every pharmaceutical industry, or which are to be satisfied by the importer of a drug, to assure that what are marketed are safe. The provisions of the Act manifest Parliamentary concern with public health in ensuring standard practices, and that people do not fall prey to adulterated or spurious drugs. There is a general public policy interest in such regulation.
The Patents Act on the other hand, puts in place a regime containing standards for conferring private monopoly rights in favour of inventors. It requires that processes or products, to claim patents, should involve steps that are “technical advance as compared to the existing knowledge or having economic significance or which has not been anticipated by publication in any document or used in the country or elsewhere in the world before the date of filing of the patent application.
Authority of the DCGI
The Controller of Patents and other officers are experts at judging whether claimed products or processes are patentable. This expertise is not only in respect of pharmaceutical products, but other specialized areas as well.
This expertise depends upon adjudging, on an objective basis, whether a product or process is novel, or contains an inventive step. Such expertise does not necessarily exist in the case of officials under the Drugs Act, who are required to test the safety of the product, and ensure that it conforms to the therapeutic claim put forward. Whether it involves an inventive step, or is novel, is not within the domain of the Drugs Act authorities and officials.
The existence of patent linkage standards in express legislation, in other parts of the world underscores that courts, in the absence of a Parliament mandated regime, should not blaze into an obviously legislative path. No doubt, courts can, through interpretive devices such as purposive interpretation, or for avoiding absurd results, at times “fill in” statutory gaps.
Bayer relies on Section 2 of the Drugs Act and Section 156 (of the Patents Act) to contend that statutory intention is clear that Drugs authorities are bound by patents, granted under the Patent Act, by virtue of Section 156 and therefore, they cannot, by conferring drug or marketing approval permit violation of patents validly granted. However, Section 156 is a clarification, that the Government, and its officials, as grantors, are bound by the patents. This means that they have to respect patents, and cannot infringe them.
Patent Linkage in Grant of Market Authorisation
One of the important reasons to inferring Drug agencies role in patent policing or enforcement is unacceptable, is that some developed countries, and the European Union cautioned against patent linkages. 
The EU Directorate General for Competition noted that “Patent linkage refers to the practice of linking the granting of MA (market authorization), the pricing and reimbursement status or any regulatory approval for a generic medicinal product, to the status of a patent (application) for the originator reference product. Under EU law, it is not allowed to link marketing authorisation to the patent status of the originator reference product. Since the status of a patent (application) is not included in the grounds set out in the Regulation and in the Directive, it cannot be used as an argument for refusing, suspending or revoking Marketing approval (MA).
The court also rejected the Bayer’s argument that Rule 122 B(1) (b) of the Drugs Rules, read with Form 44 and the data required (Appendix 1 to Schedule Y), gave an insight that patent linkage is intended by Parliament. The court stated a known principle of statutory construction, which said that the Parliament or the concerned legislature is deemed to be aware of existing laws when it enacts new legislative measures.
Therefore, there is no patent linkage in the country and what the Petitioner wants to do is to legislate it through the interpretations, which is impermissible. The court should avoid from making any policy choices which are to be made by executive and then made by the law. The concept of patent linkage is controversial in nature, since:
(1) It clothes regulatory authorities, which are executive bodies solely concerned with scientific quality, efficacy and safety issues, with completely new powers, and into areas lack in expertise, i.e. patent rights policing.
(2) It transforms patent rights which are private property rights, that depend on the owners’ promptitude and desire to enforce them, into public rights, whose enforcement is dependent on statutory authorities, who are publicly funded.
(3) Such linkage potentially undermines the “Bolar/Early Working” exception that encourage quick access to the post patent markets for generic medicines. This is a major public policy consideration in India, which faces a host of public health challenges.
The Hon’ble High Court rightly decreed the issue in favour of the Respondents, because Whenever there is a complaint on infringement it has to be challenged before the Intellectual Property Board and suits in the High Court. Before each such body, the patentee has to establish and prove infringement, wherever alleged, and may, in some cases, face challenges to the grant of its patent. Such crucial provisions, conceived in public interest, would be rendered a dead letter, if the Drugs authorities, on a representation of the patentee were to refuse licenses or approval, to applicants who otherwise satisfy the requirement of the Drugs Act and its provisions, or even be precluded from examining such applications, on assumed infringement. Also, under the Patents Act, infringement of a patent is not considered a criminal offence. On the other hand, under the Drugs Act, violation of any of its provisions constitutes a criminal offence. If patent linkage is directed, an act of infringement which is not an offence would indirectly be alleged to be an offence.
ISSUE 2: Whether drugs or formulations which infringe patents are “spurious drugs” under the Drugs Act?
Section 17-B of the Drugs Act defines spurious drugs as follows:
(a) if it is manufactured under a name which belongs to another drug; or
(b) if it is an imitation of, or is a substitute for, another drug or resembles another drug in a manner likely to deceive or bears upon it or upon its label or container the name of another drug unless it is plainly and conspicuously marked so as to reveal its true character and its lack of identity with such other drug; or
(c) if the label or container bears the name of an individual or company purporting to be the manufacturer of the drug, which individual or company is fictitious or does not exist; or
(d) if it has been substituted wholly or in part by another drug or substance; or
(e) if it purports to be the product of a manufacturer of whom it is not truly a product.
Bayer states that Cipla’s generic version of Sorafanib, which, it is contended, is sold under the brand name “Soranib” would amount to a “spurious drug”. If Bayer’s contention were to prevail, every generic drug would ipso facto amount to a “spurious drug”, since they are deemed substitutes of originator (patented) drugs. Such interpretation is facially untenable and contrary to the intent of the Drugs Act. The key elements of “spuriousness” are deception, in the manner of presentation of the drug concerned, in the sense that they imitate or represent themselves to be something that they are not.
The definition of “spurious drugs’ was introduced because of the problems of adulteration of drugs and production of spurious and sub-standard drugs, as posing a serious threat to the health of the community. A declaration by the drug agency entrusted with the task of deciding applications seeking marketing approval that someone not holding a patent is attempting to get clearance for a “spurious drug” would be pre-emptive, and would negate the provisions requiring that enforcers should follow certain mandatory procedures, and prosecute potential offenders.
When a pharmaceutical company first markets a drug, it is usually under a patent that allows only the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug to sell it. Generic drugs can only be legally produced for drugs which are free of patent protection. After the patent on a drug expires, any pharmaceutical company can manufacture and sell that drug for a fraction of the original cost of testing and developing that particular drug; in essence, says Bayer, this is a “generic” product.
Therefore it was rightly held by the court in favour of CIPLA because if Bayer’s contentions were accepted then every drug would be considered as spurious drug and generic drugs are nothing but the substitutes of patented drug, whereas the key element of determining the spurious drug is deception, in a manner, that they imitated themselves as something which they were not.
The court rightly dismissed the writ petition and pronounced the judgement in favour of the Respondents. Patent Linkage forces the regulatory authorities to perform a function which is completely in different domain altogether leading to changing the nature of patent right from a private right to a public right. If at all, patent linkage has to be adopted it should make sure that it does not come in the way of Compulsory Licensing. Even though such measures are good for the benefit of investing into Research and Development, but it still discourages generic competition in the market, leading to large monopoly of pharmaceutical company due to which the accessibility of the drug is difficult and if at all the drug is made available, it is at a very higher price which is unaffordable almost by the majority section of the people. Hence, whenever there is a need and it is in the benefit of public, market approval should be granted so that the drug can cater to the public, if the situation demands then, the generic drug manufacturer can be asked to pay royalty to the patent holder. This will also discourage monopoly of foreign pharmaceutical companies in the Indian market leading to rise in Indian economy as well.
 Robert Galantucci, Data Protection in a US-Malaysia free trade agreement: New barriers to market access for generic drug manufacturers, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal, 17 (2007), 1083.
 Orange Book: Approved Drug Products with Therapeutic Equivalence Evaluations, Available at: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/ob/default.cfm
 European Generic Medicines Association, New strategy on patent linkage is contrary to EU law and threatens access to competitive generic medicines, 2 February 2006, http://www.egagenerics.com/pr-2006-02-02.htm
 European Union – DG Competition, Pharmaceutical Sector Enquiry: Preliminary Report, 28 November 2008, http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/pharmaceuticals/inquiry/preliminary_report.pdf
 Syndicate Bank v Prabha D Naik AIR 2001 SC 1968.
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