BULL STREET - The art of the Con

India, Intellectual Property, What is That?

India has never been too concerned about the rights of others when it came to intellectual property. The feeling here is that India is playing catch up and it is easier to “catch up” when you make your own rules. Thus, there has not been a tremendous desire on the part of high-tech companies to bring their trade secrets into a country that in the past has considered them fair game. Thus, this has created the fact that there has been a lack of cohesive intellectual property laws on the books in this country. Additionally, what little protection that can be found within the court system, is archaic, slow moving and biased toward indigenous companies who more often than not were trying to simulate products, names and contents of others.  An example of the depth of the problem, Tata Timken estimates that in the field of automobile spare parts (a critical industry because of import regulations and tariffs), some 40 to 50 per cent of all products are bogus. Although legitimate products may be available, poor distribution throughout the country hampers delivery.

It is in the area of pharmaceuticals where Indian piracy takes a back seat to no country.  Their chemists can reverse engineer the most complex of medicines in no time at all. Many pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer will not sell to India at all because they will not respect intellectual property. The Indian theory is that copying is all right, at least in the field pharmaceuticals, because monopolies tend to keep prices up, a patent creates a monopoly and India has too many sick and poor to have to worry about the niceties of playing by the rules. In addition, the government has come up with some new rules of their own which through convoluted logic seems to convince them that they are doing the right thing. India will recognize the methodology of the manufacture but not the end product.  Moreover, during clinical trials in the United States samples are stolen of the indigenous drugs being used and are sent to various pharmaceutical houses in India for copying.

Simply put, if an Indian pharmaceutical company can get to the same result, but by using a different route, the product becomes totally legitimate, not only within their country but their languishing export market as well. This has resulted in total Indian pharmaceutical research and development costs, to develop copycat products, and thus be a fraction of what the same research and development program would run in the West. Moreover, without the burden of substantial research and then development, naturally, the end product can be produced at a greatly reduced price.

Many Indian Pharmaceutical companies have had their facilities approved by government agencies such as the American FDA, thus certain companies in India are free, for the most part, to export into almost all countries from the point of view of cleanly manufacturing practices. However, companies such as Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer Cipla Ltd. had Viagra copied, boxed and exported almost at the same time that Pfizer released it in the United States and while the going price in the States is around $10 a pill, in India the going rate is around $1.50 and coming down.

In an attempt to show that something was being done about the problem of counterfeiting, the Government made an attempt to put its best foot forward, in a global sense. They determined to eliminate the practice entirely within the software industry, where abuses were so severe that literally all software was phony. In this highly visible industry, “the world would see what India could do if she tried”. According to the National Association of Software and Service Companies, an Indian trade group, software companies lost $140 million to pirates, which still accounted for over 60% of the Indian market.  

To give you an idea of to what degree pharmaceutical companies in India will go to in order to protect their franchises, a look at the area of malnutrition in children in this country should be of interest. Because of the fact that most of the children in here are suffering from malnutrition, which causes serious problems such as stunted growth along with fatal diarrhea, blindness and measles, it was determined, that vitamin A would be added to their diets. However, when 2-year old Wahidur died at his first visit to the doctor after receiving a dose of the vitamin, word was quickly spread among the people and they proceeded to blame the vitamin for his death.

However, these vitamin injections were sponsored by UNICEF with support from many of the largest multinational drug companies in the world. The program up to that point had been running like a well-oiled clock. The problem was thought that there were 35-million children involved in the program with most of their parents coming from the witch doctor school of logic. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the rumor was spread that the vitamin somehow had something to do with this particular child’s demise. This brought the entire program to an abrupt halt in spite of the fact that authorities in the field officially concluded that the vitamin had nothing to do with the death and moreover it had already saved thousands of lives. .

However, the physician that took care of little Wahidur on that fatal day, Dr. Rikeswar did notice that the child had a respiratory infection before the treatment.  Obviously in retrospect, this had been the killer, not the vitamin that had been safely administered to over 200 million children worldwide under the same program that was being used in India. Experts have said that if the program is not continued, tens of thousands of Indian children will die needlessly but gossip was rampant that it was the vitamin that did in the child and no amount of educating of the parents seemed to make the slightest inroads.

UNICEF nutritionist Werner Schultink added his voice to the chorus stating that, “It’s proven beyond doubt that this is a highly effective intervention that saves many children’s lives, this thing that came up in India completely amazed us.” Yet, the Indian Health Ministry found reason to disagree. “There was so much hue and cry in the press we thought we better have an expert opinion,” was the comment of Health Minister C. P. Thakur who probably should be tarred, feathered and driven out of town for his stupidity. His feelings were seeming backed up by another person who should look for work in a laundry, A. R. Nanda who indicated that the vitamin A deficiency which effects at least two-thirds of the children in India, was not that widespread and he went on to say the it was some sort of a plot by the multinationals to enforce some sort of lobby. We would wonder what lobby he was working for, maybe the dumb lobby.

Another party was also heard from in the form of Colathur Gopalan, 83, the founder of the Nutrition Foundation of India and a member of the government advisory committee on the subject. He too voted for discontinuing the project saying, “India must look to farms, not pharmacies, for solutions.” However, while it certainly would be a great move forward if India had enough diverse agricultural products available to feed their undernourished population, it is not now the case and at this rate will never be such. However the situation is not nice and these charming gentlemen in their ignorance are just a guilty of genocide as was Pol Pot or Hitler. Moreover, their blame of the multinationals is beyond stupidity as pointed out by the New York Times in an article that stated, “The vitamin A used in India was produced by two Indian drug manufactures, Nicholas Piramal and Nestor Pharmaceuticals. The syrup was free to the Indian government, donated by the Canadian government under UNICEF's auspices. Each dose cost little more than a penny.”[76][29]

However all of the blame should not solely be placed on the ignorance of Indian bureaucrats that are never much use anyway. Indian newspapers are historically gossip sheets more interested in building circulation with the spread of wild stories than they are in getting to the truth. In this case the Sentinel, a Dhukpaguri Pather newspaper started the ball rolling with their inconceivable headline, which stated: “Assam Anti-Blindness Drive Turns Fatal, Thousands Hit.”  Once again the New York Times found another villain:

“State health officials concede that they failed to act quickly to dispel the fear. `rather than immediately explaining that 47 children between the ages of 1 and 5 die every day in Assam - and that vitamin A has never been implicated in any death worldwide - the state health minister, Bhumidhar Burman, vowed to take action against Unicef if the vitamin syrup turned out to have been contaminated.”[77][30]

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. These folks can even make charity look dirty. Making mockery of the entire affair was the fact that of the six children that had been reported to have died from taking vitamin “A”, health officials in India later admitted that four had not even taken it. Moreover, the causes of death for the other two were more than adequately covered by medical experts and it was carefully explained that they had nothing to do with the vitamin. However, rumors here die hard and another equally obnoxious one soon started making the rounds. This one had it that the government was sorry about the entire episode and in order to compensate families that had been effected by the potential problems attached to vitamin A, they were going to give each family a substantial sum of money to usage them. Unbelievably hundreds of people lined up in front of the government clinic to collect their money the next day. The problems are in the minds of the people but they are not able to do better. In this case when the rumored payoff turned out to be a fraud, people began to chant and then started rioting.

Talk about yelling fire in a crowded theater. In India all you have to do is whisper the statement and it becomes tomorrow’s headlines. Nobody ever checks to see what the real facts are before they act and that is one of the reasons that in spite of some recent progress by the country in an industrial sense, it will be a long time before these people ever gain true understanding about what is going on in the world. We can only thank our lucky stars that we are not living in this god forsaken place. 



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