Compulsory licensing is a crucial mechanism in intellectual property law that plays a pivotal role in promoting public interest and ensuring access to essential technologies. In India, the provisions for compulsory licensing are enshrined in the Patents Act, 1970, and have been at the forefront of various debates, discussions, and legal battles. This article will examine the provisions for compulsory licensing in India in detail and their role in promoting public interest and access to essential technologies.

Compulsory Licensing Explained

Compulsory licensing is a legal provision that allows the government to grant licenses to third parties, permitting them to use, make, or sell a patented invention without the permission of the patent holder. This is typically done when the public interest and welfare demand such access. In India, compulsory licensing is governed by the Patents Act, 1970. Section 84 of the Act lays down the conditions under which compulsory licenses can be issued.

Provisions for Compulsory Licensing in India

Section 84 of the Patents Act, 1970: This section provides the primary legal framework for the grant of compulsory licenses in India. Let’s delve deeper into the conditions under which a compulsory license can be issued:

Reasonable Requirements of the Public: A compulsory license may be granted if it is determined that the reasonable requirements of the public concerning the patented invention have not been satisfied. This means that if the patent holder is unable to meet the demand for the patented product, the government can step in to ensure that the public’s needs are met.

Failure to Work the Invention in India: Another situation where a compulsory license can be granted is when the patent holder has failed to work the patented invention in India or has not made the patented product available in sufficient quantity. This provision is essential to prevent patent holders from simply sitting on their inventions without making them available to the public.

Unreasonable Pricing: The patented invention must not be available to the public at a reasonable price. If the product is priced exorbitantly, making it unaffordable for the general population, the government can intervene to ensure affordability.


Section 92: This section of the Act empowers the government to issue compulsory licenses for the export of patented pharmaceutical products to countries with insufficient manufacturing capabilities. This provision aligns with India’s commitment to supplying affordable medicines to countries in need and extends the reach of the Indian pharmaceutical industry.

Section 92A: Introduced in 2005, this provision deals with compulsory licensing in cases of national emergency and extreme urgency. It allows the government to grant licenses for the manufacture and sale of patented pharmaceutical products in situations like a public health crisis. This has been of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the government can expedite the production of essential medical supplies.

Section 92B: This section addresses the issue of compulsory licensing for the supply of patented pharmaceutical products to healthcare facilities supported by the government. In cases where government-supported healthcare institutions require access to specific patented medicines, a compulsory license can be granted to ensure the availability of these medicines.

Case Study: Natco Pharma vs. Bayer Corporation (2012)

This case is one of the most well-known instances of compulsory licensing in India. The case revolved around Nexavar, a life-saving cancer drug patented by Bayer Corporation. Nexavar is used to treat kidney and liver cancer and was known for its high cost, making it inaccessible to a majority of patients in India due to its exorbitant pricing.

Natco Pharma, an Indian generic pharmaceutical company, sought a compulsory license to manufacture a more affordable generic version of Nexavar. Their argument was based on the grounds that the pricing set by Bayer was unaffordable for most Indian patients and that granting a compulsory license would significantly improve access to this critical cancer treatment. Natco Pharma filed an application for a compulsory license with the Controller of Patents under Section 84 of the Patents Act, 1970, which allowed for such licenses to be issued if certain conditions were met, including making the patented product available at a reasonable price and ensuring the reasonable requirements of the public were met.

After extensive legal proceedings and arguments from both parties, the Controller of Patents ultimately ruled in favor of Natco Pharma. The Controller acknowledged the high cost of Nexavar and the fact that the vast majority of patients in India couldn’t afford it. In light of this, the Controller deemed that granting a compulsory license was in the interest of the public welfare and aligned with the Patents Act.

Promoting Public Interest

The provisions for compulsory licensing in India are designed to strike a balance between protecting the interests of patent holders and ensuring access to essential technologies for the general public. The primary objective is to promote public interest, and this is evident in several ways:

Enhancing Availability of Vital Medications: One of the primary roles of compulsory licensing in India is within the pharmaceutical sector. In scenarios where patented drugs are excessively costly, the government can authorize generic manufacturers to produce these essential medicines, thus making them more affordable and accessible to the general population, which is especially critical in a densely populated nation grappling with significant healthcare challenges.

Fostering Domestic Ingenuity: The provisions related to compulsory licensing also serve as an impetus for stimulating innovation within the country. They deter patent holders from withholding technology, which might otherwise impede technological advancement. This, in turn, ensures that the public can harness the benefits of cutting-edge technologies and inventions, propelling economic and societal progress.

Mitigating Anticompetitive Behaviour: Compulsory licensing can be leveraged as a mechanism to combat monopolistic practices that lead to manufactured scarcities and exorbitant pricing. When a patent holder fails to adequately supply the patented product, compulsory licensing can be employed to dismantle such monopolies, guaranteeing that the product is available to the public at reasonable prices.

Responding to Crisis Situations: The introduction of Section 92A and Section 92B in the Patents Act establishes a legal framework for addressing national emergencies and public health crises. This ensures that the welfare of the public takes precedence over patent rights during periods of extreme urgency.


Compulsory licensing is a critical component of India’s intellectual property framework, designed to protect public interest and ensure access to essential technologies. It plays a significant role in providing affordable medicines, promoting domestic innovation, and addressing public health emergencies. While it has faced criticism and challenges, the provisions for compulsory licensing in India have, on balance, contributed to the greater good and welfare of its citizens. As India continues to develop and innovate, the role of compulsory licensing in promoting public interest remains as relevant as ever. Striking this balance is crucial for ensuring that intellectual property rights coexist harmoniously with the broader goals of promoting public welfare and technological advancement.

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