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Update on Novartis vs India, Supreme Court Case

Update on the case

Hearings into the case commenced on 11 September 2012, with representatives for Novartis being the first to present their arguments. The court has also heard arguments from generic companies and the counsel for the Indian government. The counsel for Cancer Patients Aid Association is now presenting arguments to defend India’s strict patentability criteria. 

The hearing is expected to conclude by the end of November. The two judges hearing the case will then reserve their decision, with the verdict to be announced sometime thereafter.  


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continues to follow progress of the case currently unfolding in India’s Supreme Court. The question of what deserves a patent, enshrined in Section 3(d) of the country’s patent law, is at the crux of Swiss company Novartis’ six year legal battle against the Indian government, which has now reached the Supreme Court.

Section 3(d) led to the company being denied a patent for a blood and intestinal cancer drug (imatinib mesylate, marketed by Novartis as Glivec).  Novartis is contesting the Indian patent office’s and appellate body’s decisions to reject the company’s application for a patent on the salt form of imatinib.

A win for Novartis would set a dangerous precedent, severely weakening India’s legal norms against ‘evergreening’, a common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. A single medicine can have several applications for separate patents, each relating to a different aspect of the same medicine.  This would inevitably lead to patents being granted far more widely in the country, blocking the competition among multiple producers which drives down prices, and restricting access to affordable medicines for millions in India and across the developing world.