The Indian pharmaceutical industry has been rocked by yet another high-profile patent battle between a local drug maker and a global giant.
Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis has sued Cipla for infringing on its patent for respiratory drug Onbrez. Hearings on the case have been completed in the Delhi High Court, which is expected to announce its judgment on January 9.
This is arguably the third most-watched patent case in India.
In April 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed a plea by Novartis against Natco Pharma on a patent for the cancer drug Glivec.
And just a few days ago, the Supreme Court dismissed Bayer Corp's appeal against a Bombay High Court decision in July refusing to revoke a compulsory licence issued to Hyderabad-based Natco to sell a version of the German drug company's kidney-cancer drug Nexavar.
Industry experts say the Novartis-Cipla case also raises similar issues that previous cases did - non-availability of medicines, non-working of the patent in India and unaffordable pricing.
DG Shah, Secretary General of the industry group Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, says that very few cases related to intellectual property rights come up in India. "Litigation is part of the IPR regime and jurisprudence [in India] must evolve" to deal with such cases, he adds.
Cipla Chairman YK Hamied refused to comment saying that the matter was sub-judice. Company executives, who didn't want to be named, point out towards the need to improve supply of respiratory drugs considering that there are about 1.5 crore asthma patients in the country.
Novartis, however, rubbishes claims of a drug shortage. "There is ample supply of Onbrez and Cipla's claims that there is a shortage of Onbrez lacks any substance," Novartis spokeswoman Svetlana Pinto said, adding that the Indian company's argument that the Swiss firm's patent is not valid in India is, therefore, incorrect.
Pinto also said that Novartis had in November won a trademark dispute against Cipla for the drug since the Indian company's brand was Unibrez, which sounded similar to Novartis's Onbrez brand.
Subsequently, Novartis also sought and got an injunction on Cipla so that it cannot launch the product under any other brand name. Cipla cannot launch the product under any other brand name till the judgment is out on January 9, she said.