It should especially assess effects on health and productivity
This article was published as an op-ed in the Hindu Business Line.
The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has done a commendable job in its 161th report, the Review of the Intellectual Property Rights Regime in India, presented to the Rajya Sabha on July 23, 2021. The same day, the report was also presented to the Lok Sabha.
At many places, the committee notes and compares the Indian system with other foreign jurisdictions. It also outlines the need for India to follow/consider/emulate the policies of the US or the EU.
However, both in the US and the EU, any such committee studies or recommendations would have necessarily involved academic inputs. The committee’s study would have greatly benefited from academic inputs, both from established academics within India specialising in IPRs as well as from those outside of India.
Similarly, it is important to incorporate suggestions from members of civil society, who have become important and invested levers in India. They have relentlessly highlighted the welfare interventions of development.
In paragraph 2.4, the report notes the following. “The Committee, in its interactions with different organisations, was informed about the absence of any study undertaken by India to analyse the economic impact of IPRs on its GDP, growth of industries, generation of employment, trade and commerce, etc.”
Impact of IPRs
As mentioned in the report, it is a fact that most countries undertake studies on how much IPRs contribute to their economies. Also, countries undertake studies on how much is lost when inflexible IPRs affect access to healthcare.
For instance, countries that had a higher incidence of AIDS and limited access to medication — such as South Africa in the early 2000s — experienced loss of economic productivity.
Infected people with only limited access to testing and medication spread the infection, resulting in a reduction in life expectancy and a negative impact on labour and economic output as casualties amongst youngsters increased.
Similarly, when there was an outbreak of SARS in China a few years back, it directly affected international trade just as it did during Covid, but on a smaller scale.
In fact, assuming a person’s productivity to be a ratio of the value of his/her life (derived based on several indicators such as living conditions, earning potential, per capita income, etc), the loss of each adult life at the person’s most productive age represents an equivalent deprivation to the economy of productivity.
Consequently, the decline in national productivity owing to the loss of labour, whether from Covid, cancer or heart disease, is manifested as a proportionate loss of productivity in every sector of the economy.
Access to medicines
In economic terms, the cumulative loss of access to medicines in developing nations represents a cumulative loss of productivity. Such cumulative loss of productivity (even if it is only from loss of labour alone) reduces the opportunities to facilitate foreign investments.
Such studies are especially important in India where healthcare expenses are soaring and the cost of some medications is beyond the reach of common people. A research by Medanta notes that the country ranks third in reported cases of blood cancer. The cost of IDHIFA or Enasedinib, a drug used to treat AML (acute myeloid leukemia), is a whopping ₹23 lakh for a month’s supply of the medication in India.
Online drug pharmacies that import such medication price it at approximately ₹8 lakh for a month’s supply. The patent for Enasedinib is held by Celgene, a US corporation. As such, the drug is not even registered for sale in India. This drug was approved by the USFDA in 2017; it sold globally at around $28,000.
Thus, it is important to not only commission studies on how much IPRs contribute to protection of trademarks, copyrights and patents, but also on how much productivity is lost from public health failures in India.
For a country at the crossroads of development such as India, a keen eye on balancing economic development with welfare issues is important to create a level of sustainability.
The writer is Professor of Law & Director of India Program, Texas A&M School of Law, Fort Worth, TX