The public health activists greet this move, as according to them, poor people around the globe will continue to use cheap versions of the crucial anti-cancer medicines.
The decision has global significance since India's generic drug industry, pegged to be valued at $26 billion US, supplies much of the cheap medicine used in the developing world.
Novartis had argued that it needed a patent to protect its investment in the cancer drug Glivec, while activists said the company was trying to use a loophole to make more money out of a drug that did not have a patent.
Pratibha Singh, a lawyer for the Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla, which makes a version of Glivec for less than a tenth of the original drug's selling price, said the ruling sets a precedent that will prevent international pharmaceutical companies from obtaining fresh patents in India on updated versions of existing drugs.
The court ruled that a patent could only be given to a new drug, she told reporters outside the court. "Patents will be given only for genuine inventions, and repetitive patents will not be given for minor tweaks to an existing drug," Singh said.
Novartis called the ruling a "setback for patients," and said patent protection is crucial to fostering investment in research to develop new and better drugs.
Ranjit Shahani, the vice-chairman and managing director of Novartis India, said the ruling "will hinder medical progress for diseases without effective treatment options."
Leena Menghaney of Doctors Without Borders said India would continue to grant patents on new medicines. "This doesn't mean that no patents will be granted.
Patents will continue to be granted by India, but definitely the abusive practice of getting many patents on one drug will be stopped," Menghaney said.
The judgement would ensure that the prices of lifesaving drugs would come down as many more companies would produce generic versions.
"We've seen this happening with HIV medicines, where the cost of HIV treatment has come down from $10,000 to $150 per year. Cancer treatment costs have come down by 97 per cent in the case of many cancer drugs," Menghaney said.
"This decision is incredibly important. The Supreme Court decision will save a lot of lives in the coming decades," she said.
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