- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2014

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared that his nation is “open for business,” but some U.S. industry leaders remain troubled by India’s policy toward intellectual property rights and question whether the new leader, making his first visit to Washington this week, will follow through on his promise to address the problem.

Mr. Modi, who took power in May, had a private dinner with President Obama Monday night, though the White House wouldn’t say whether intellectual property was on the agenda.

In advance of Mr. Modi’s stop in Washington, leaders from a variety of powerful U.S. industries pressed the president to raise intellectual property issues with his Indian counterpart.

“Since [Modi] has taken office, he and his team have certainly said positive things,” said Chris Moore, senior director of international business policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “But thus far we haven’t really seen any actions from this government on intellectual property. … We are pressing our government but also the Indian leadership to really deliver concrete progress and real results.”

Mr. Modi has raised expectations of an economic rebound for India, based in part on his success promoting jobs and investment as head of the state of Gujarat and in part on a new “Make in India” liberalizing agenda he unveiled in New Delhi shortly before leaving last week for New York.

The National Association of Manufacturers is a member of the Alliance for Fair Trade With India, which last week sent a letter to Mr. Obama urging him to push Mr. Modi to follow through on his goal of reforming the Indian intellectual property system.

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The group also counts among its members the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups from virtually all sectors of the U.S. economy.

Complaints about India’s intellectual property protections span a variety of industries. The country, for example, has taken steps to allow only domestically manufactured products in the energy and technology sectors, shutting out American companies and, critics argue, reducing the availability of quality products for Indian consumers.

India also is a leader in bootlegged copies of American films.

On the pharmaceutical front, more than a dozen drugs — such as Nexavar, used to treat kidney disease — have had their patents denied or revoked while Indian companies produce cheaper, generic versions. India has made the growth of its medical and pharmaceutical sectors a top priority, and thus far it has pursued that goal by keeping U.S. and other international products out of the Indian market.

Despite those concerns, specialists say Mr. Modi has sounded much more open to the idea of genuinely reforming India’s intellectual property rules than his predecessors.

“We’re still waiting for the change, but the tone and environment are totally different. A year ago you had an administration in India that, I think, was actively hostile to intellectual property,” said Patrick Kilbride, executive director of international intellectual property at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “Today you have a fresh start with a government that seems committed to building a better business environment. We’re waiting to see what kind of signals they’re able to send when they get into the actual policy.”

Mr. Modi’s platform includes economic growth and reforms to intellectual property policy as top priorities. U.S. business leaders want to see an overall strengthening of laws as well as the boosting of administrative capacity within the Indian government.

Right now, India simply isn’t able to cope with a backlog of tens of thousands of patent applications from international companies, according to Mr. Kilbride.

But Mr. Modi also is coming under fire from some in his country who argue that India should not bow to pressure from U.S. industry and the Obama administration. As the prime minister headed to the U.S., a group of Indian civil society organizations sent him a letter arguing that current intellectual property protections are sufficient, according to the Times of India.

The groups fear that changes to intellectual property provisions could stifle domestic innovation or cause other unforeseen consequences.

“Globally, there is no conclusive proof that strengthened [intellectual property] protection promotes innovation and we should be under no illusion that strong IP protection can boost innovative activities in India,” the groups said.

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