Medicine and Colonial Patent Law in India: a Study of Patent Medicines and the Indian Patents and Designs Act, 1911 in Early- Twentieth-Century India
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 75(4): 408-428
ISSN/ISBN: 1468-4373 PMID: 33036029 DOI: 10.1093/jhmas/jraa027
This paper investigates the history of drugs sold as "patent medicines" in India in the early twentieth century. The paper investigates their legitimacy as patenting of medicines was forbidden by the Indian Patents and Designs Act, 1911 (IPDA). The paper argues that the instrument of letters patents functioning as the prerogative of the Crown that gave monopolistic rights to grantees to sell any compound without having to disclose its constituents was the reason behind this seemingly conflicting historical relationship between the law and the market. Colonial law-making left sufficient space within the ambit of the IPDA for letters patents to have their ill effects. The colonial state made attempts to address this as a public health issue by incorporating concerns related to this class of medicines within regulations addressed to the drugs market in the 1930s. The currency of patent medicines in the market was further added to by Indian indigenous entrepreneurs fueled by cultural nationalism of Swadeshi ideology in Bengal in the early twentieth century. However, even such indigenous responses or attempts at hybridization of manufacturing and selling practices related to patent medicines were mostly informed by upper-caste/ upper-class interests and not so much by those of consumers of these medicines.