Under palm trees bent by South India’s monsoon winds, this summer hundreds of protesters gathered outside the onion-domed High Court complex in the city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras). Their signs urged Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG to drop its legal challenge to India’s patent laws. The protesters feared that Indian generic drug manufacturers, which supply the bulk of medicine to the developing world, would be stifled by the stronger protection for innovative drugs that Novartis was suing to impose. “Patients, not patents!” was their cry.

The Chennai demonstrators were joined by more than a half million people worldwide who had signed a petition circulated by the international health group Doctors Without Borders urging Novartis to drop its suit. But as it turned out, the judges accomplished what the protesters couldn’t. On Aug. 6, after months of procedural delays during which the litigation morphed into an international controversy, the High Court rejected Novartis’ contention that India’s patent laws are unconstitutional.