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Tighter patent rules in developing countries could derail the generics drugs industry and leave millions of people without access to cheap essential medicines, says Angela Saini in this New Scientist article.

Western pharmaceutical companies argue that patent protection is essential to reward innovation leading to new drugs. But, says Saini, these companies are not as innovative as they seem.

In fact, real innovation — as measured by the number of applications for 'truly innovative products' to the US Food and Drug Administration — has been falling for nearly a decade, despite a doubling in spending on research and development.

Novartis, a Swiss drug company, is currently embroiled in a sticky legal battle over India's refusal to grant a patent for its leukaemia drug Glivec. The controversy centres on a dispute over whether the drug represents a 'truly novel' medicine or just a small improvement on existing treatments.

The case could set an important precedent for drug patents across the developing world. But, argues Saini, if companies like Novartis want to encourage research and development in poor countries, they would do better to litigate less and innovate more themselves.

Link to full article in New Scientist