The striking change in tone and tenor of two letters by Orin Hatch, now Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is noteworthy, particularly because of his proximity to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). 

In June 2014, he wrote: “…I am very concerned with India’s policies on intellectual property rights, which not only harm US innovators and creators but are extremely short-sighted, inhibiting India’s own economic development. For example, India continues to ignore its international obligations and misuse its patent law to build up its domestic industry at the expense of US innovators.

India also fails to take adequate steps to address widespread piracy and counterfeiting, and imposes significant discriminatory market access barriers blocking sales of US-made innovative products, and coercing US companies to transfer their technology and intellectual property to local industry.”

He had even warned then that “there must be consequences if the new government fails to act.” The tone is very different in 2015. He now writes recognizing India's potential and elaborating how the US can benefit from working with India. “…urge you to ensure that expanding the bilateral trade and investment relationship is a top priority for this new forum {Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD)}.

Over the past year, there has been reason for optimism about the overall US-India relationship. Amidst global economic uncertainties, India’s economy has grown. We are hopeful that Prime Minister Modi’s stated commitment to reforms in India – if achieved – has the potential to create significant positive opportunities for US workers, businesses, and farmers.”

Supporting President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to five-fold increase in trade to $500 billion by 2025, he underlines the need to “make meaningful progress in addressing the significant barriers that India has erected, which have prevented the US-India trade and investment relationship from reaching its full potential.” The letter concludes:

“A democratic, free-market India of 1.2 billion strong is in the economic and foreign policy interest of the United States, and trade and investment ties form the bedrock of a successful broader bilateral bond. As strong supporters of the US-India relationship, we urge you to take full advantage of the S&CD to address significant and long-standing bilateral concerns, encourage India to follow through on its reform agenda, and set ambitious new goals to improve bilateral trade and investment.”

The recent joint statement during PM Modi’s visit to the US is without reference to intellectual property related issues reflecting that the strength of a nation depends on the health of its people. The statement welcomes agreement to enhance cooperation in the field of cancer research, prevention, control and management.

It is reportedly agreed that India will supply “off-patent” cancer drug for the US market. Nevertheless, India must guard against the US Trade Representative (USTR), which continues to keep India on a “priority watch list” in its 2015 Special 301 Report for an allegedly lax IP regime and expresses “growing concerns” over India’s IP protection and enforcement.

The periodic reports of the US pressure to revise India’s IP regime. In particular, demands for data exclusivity and the patent linkage. Both these go beyond India’s obligation under the TRIPS (Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement. Any compromise on IP for India will not only hurt access to affordable healthcare but will also damage the prospects of the national pharmaceutical industry.

And Indian authorities should not underestimate the influence of Big Pharma and its powerful lobbying network. In fact, India would do well to keep its dialogue on and effectively convey its concerns to the US without committing to adopt TRIPS-plus or US-plus IP regime for protection and enforcement of patents.

The writer is CEO, Vision Consulting Group and Secretary General, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance. His views are personal.