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Wednesday, Dec 29, 2004

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Govt looking at `holistic' legislation on data protection

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Dec. 28

CLOSE on the heels of promulgating an Ordinance to usher in a product patent regime, the Government is looking at the possibility of enacting a "holistic" piece of legislation on data protection.

"Data protection is a very complex and large issue that needs to be dealt with separately. We are looking at a holistic piece of legislation on data protection," Mr Kamal Nath, Union Commerce and Industry Minister, told reporters on the sidelines of the 77th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) here.

The Minister also held that the need for data protection in all sectors would be assessed before a Bill is introduced.

There has been considerable debate among various groups of the pharmaceuticals, chemicals as well as the IT industry on the issue of data protection. For instance, the MNC pharma lobbies have been pushing for at least five years data protection against unfair commercial use even after the 20-year patents life of a product, while the Indian companies have been concerned about extension of patent life due to data protection, as this would hurt the generic industry.

While, the Health Ministry has been maintaining that the existing Drugs and Cosmetics Act cannot monitor data protection, the Government is examining the article 39.3 of TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) under the World Trade Organisation to clarify whether it is essential for Governments to protect data produced by the originator.

Meanwhile the IT industry is also concerned about data protection in the light of growing business process outsourcing (BPO). In fact, NASSCOM has suggested amendments to the Information Technology Act, 2000 to address the issues related to data protection and data privacy.

Earlier in his address at the FICCI AGM, Mr Kamal Nath said that he did not see the promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Patent Act as a measure intended for "compliance to the WTO alone".

While maintaining that the fears of price rise in drugs are unfounded, the Minister held that the product patent regime would strengthen the pharmaceutical industry and information technology sector. Exports of pharma products are likely to touch Rs 14,000 crore during the current fiscal, he added.

When asked whether the Government would be able to get Parliamentary approval for the patent Ordinance, Mr Kamal Nath said, "You must have at least some trust in our ability to understand numbers. We have the wisdom to judge its fate (in Parliament)."

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