Compulsory Licensing of Patents

– By Apoorva Mishra

Compulsory licensing is an involuntary licensing where the licensor is unwilling to grant the license to the willing licensee, but this entire agreement of compulsory licensing is enforced by the state, by which the licensor has to transfer the rightful authorization of the patent to the licensee, against all his wishes. Government is basically the protector and acts as a guardian for the public at large. Therefore, for the benefit of nation, it has the right to grant the patent and next moment take away the patent and patentee’s monopoly over it. The requirements of the society at large supersedes against the rights of the patent holder to answer the pressing public requirements. Following situations may attract compulsory licensing where IP holder:

  • Charges unfair and discriminatory prices; or
  • Limits production of goods and services; or
  • Restricts technical or scientific development of goods and services; or
  • Desecrates consumer welfare.

Internationally, compulsory licensing has been supported saying that it helps in catering to the needs of the public at large and development of developing and underdeveloped countries. Compulsory Licensing has been mandated by several agreements like WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), Paris Convention for the promotion of industrial property. TRIPS has envisaged several conditions for issuance of compulsory licensing:

  1. The person or company should apply for licensing after 3 years to the grant of patent.
  2. Before applying for compulsory licensing, the person or company should make an attempt for voluntary licensing.
  3. The person or company then should apply to the board for compulsory licensing if the proposed user has made efforts to obtain authorization from the right holder on reasonable commercial terms and conditions and that such efforts have not been successful within a reasonable period of time.

In India, we have seen a growth of many foreign companies reason being they hold knowledge and they rule the terms.  Therefore, there exists a chance that these companies can abuse their positions. Compulsory licensing of IPRs in cases of such abuses would be an apt remedy that will deter these companies from abusing their dominant positions. Keeping in mind Indian conditions compulsory licensing will spur growth and development in Indian industrial sectors. Keeping in mind the size of Indian market the incentive for innovation will not erode to the extent that might deter companies from entering in to innovative endeavours as courts have granted reasonable royalties in cases where compulsory licensing has been awarded. Compulsory licensing will make the products more accessible to public and it will be beneficial for public welfare.

The developing and the under developed countries are not much concerned about protection of patent laws as much as developed countries are because they don’t have resources to spend on development of costly mechanism to ensure protection of patents.

There are few reasons behind this:

  • by allowing piracy, developing and underdeveloped countries can ensure availability of needed goods and services to their citizens at affordable prices
  • The local industries which produce counterfeit goods employee thousands of workers and therefore reduce unemployment.
  • In order to advance in science and technology, they need maximum access to intellectual property of advanced nations.

More than 80% patents in developing and underdeveloped countries are owned by citizens of technologically advanced countries. Consequently, their governments are not willing to spend huge amounts in developing effective administrative mechanism to enforce IPRs of citizens of advanced states.

The Government will, however, pay royalty to the patent holder for using his patent without his permission, but this will in turn discourage the patent holder from making any further inventions or innovations. The discouraged Research & Development shall lead to deteriorating economic growth. The developing or under-developed countries shall refrain from investing in R & D, indirectly affecting the economy, and will settle for generic goods. This might increase the risk of goods turning into inferior quality. Ultimately, as a result of weak intellectual property regime, a country becomes less competitive, and brain drain is an obvious result.

Compulsory licensing becomes inevitable to deal with the situations of “patent suppression”. By incorporating an effective mechanism of compulsory licensing, governments of developing countries may pressurize the patent holders to work the patent to maximum national advantage. The threat of non-voluntary licensing may be helpful in negotiating a reasonable price of the needed drug acceptable to both the patent owner and the government. Compulsory licensing might be necessary in situations where its refusal may prevent utilization of another important invention which can be significant for technological advancement or economic growth.

Compulsory licensing ensures that a good number of producers or manufacturers are there to cater to the needs of society; it spurs competition and consumer welfare. Those who argue against it saying that it leads to erosion in incentive for innovation forget that a right is always accompanied by a corresponding duty, and failure to perform that duty might have its implications in law.

The abuse of patents is a very likely to occur where the patentee has its rights protected under Patent laws. The patent holder has monopoly rights but they are more likely to abuse. The patent holders are often tempted to indulge in to anti-competitive practices and they try to extend their monopoly into areas where they do not have rights protected by IPRs. Software companies like Microsoft, several pharmaceutical companies, as discussed above, are protected under the patent laws and most of the time they are the sole manufacturer. So this gives them an opportunity where they can dictate their terms over the entire market which might lead to exploitation of others right in the market. In such a scenario, compulsory licensing comes into play, which acts as a remedy to abuse of patents, where government intervention leads to increase in the versatility of the market leading to a monopolistic market rather than a monopoly, the consumers have a choice and the product will be easily available, where the opponents have argued that compulsory licensing will lead to discouragement for innovations, but this also true that this will lead to a heated competition, which will in return lead to a peer pressure over the patent holder to work more over his product, get distributers, improve his research and product and make it available to the public at large. This will lead to an increase in the economy. There are reasonable apprehensions that FDI may dry up if compulsory licensing is granted as a remedy, to that essential facility doctrine must be adopted, so that only what is essential and necessary should prevail.

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