The IPR policy approved by the Cabinet on Thursday night, comes in the backdrop of the US Trade Representative (USTR), in its annual (2016 edition) Special 301 Report (on the global state of IPR protection and enforcement) retaining India on the ‘Priority Watch List’ for “lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its IPR framework.” It also comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s U.S. visit in June.

Mr. Jaitley made it clear that the IPR Policy will ensure that no changes are made in the Section (which prevents ever-greening of drug patents) as well as the patent-disabling Compulsory Licensing (CL).In fact, the Policy states “India shall remain committed to the (World Trade Organisation’s) Doha Declaration on Trade Related IPR Agreement (TRIPS) and Public Health.” It also says “India will continue to utilise the legislative space and flexibilities available in international treaties and the TRIPS Agreement.”

These flexibilities include the sovereign right of countries to use provisions such as Section 3(d) and CLs for ensuring the availability of essential and life-saving drugs at affordable prices.The Policy says that to have strong and effective IPR laws, which balance the interests of rights owners with larger public interest, steps could be taken — including review of existing IP laws — to update and improve them or to remove anomalies and inconsistencies. The review will be done in consultation with stakeholders, it added.

Government sources said the changes in the laws will be those relating to the Rules on patents, trademarks, copyrights and other IPRs, but the changes will not go beyond India’s commitments at the WTO-level To ensure strong and effective IPR laws, the Policy states India will engage constructively in the negotiation of international treaties and agreements in consultation with stakeholders.

Government sources said the international treaties and agreements referred to are international IP classification agreements, including the Nice and Vienna Classifications, and not pacts like the Trans Pacific Partnership, which apparently has TRIPS-plus provisions.“The IPR policy is driven by the agenda of IP maximalism, where IP owners’ rights will be maximised at the cost of public interest. This (policy) will influence courts and judges. The policy needs to be opposed from becoming a ‘national’ policy,” said Dinesh Abrol, convenor of the National Working Group on Patent Laws and WTO, a civil society group.