Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Major pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, have agreed to the Centre’s offer that the statutory appeal of the Novartis against the rejection of its patent application will be heard by a Bench comprising the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).

Novartis’ application to patent its beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate was rejected by Chennai Patent Office in January 2006. After the company’s statutory appeals were transferred to the IPAB after a Technical Member was appointed, Novartis sought to exclude him on the ground that he had filed a counter-affidavit in support of the Centre, and hence would be biased. In July the Board rejected the objections.

When the present petition of the company came up before the First Bench, Additional Solicitor-General of India V.T. Gopalan said the court could direct the constitution of a Bench, comprising Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Board, to hear the statutory appeals. As provided for under Section 115 of the Patents Act, the Bench could take outside technical support if needed.

Shanti Bhushan, senior counsel for Novartis, told the court on Monday that the proposal was agreeable to the company as Section 84(3) of the Indian Trademarks Act permitted a Chairman to discharge the functions of the Judicial Member or Technical Member as the case might be.

Other major companies, which were party to the proceedings, agreed to the proposal.

R. Vaigai, who represented the Cancer Patients Aid Association of India, though opposed to the merits of Novartis’ case, left the decision on the composition of the Bench to the court. Natco Pharma objected to the proposed composition, stating that the Act did not provide for such a role for the Chairman.

The Bench permitted the company to make further submissions on Tuesday.