GENEVA, Switzerland– In a June meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council, an agreement was made to extend a deadline concerning intellectual property and patents. This agreement allows least developed countries (LDCs) an extension of 8 years before TRIPs standards are required to be implemented. A key benefit of this extension is that governments may issue compulsory licenses for the production of affordable medical technology in public health emergencies.
The WTO TRIPS Agreement, which the TRIPs Council oversees, is a set of minimum standards for intellectual property (IP) regulation. Among other requirements, non-LDC members of the WTO are required to provide strong copyright protection, trademarks, patents, as well as enforcement and dispute resolution procedures.
Critics of TRIPs cite costs for drug patents, arguing that these are prohibitive to providing life-saving drugs to developing countries. In order to address this concern, a similar TRIPs waiver for LDCs that addresses pharmaceutical patents was created in 2002, giving LDCs until 2016 to provide patent protection for pharmaceuticals. “We recognize that intellectual property protection is important for the development of new medicines. We also recognize the concerns about its effects on prices,” reads the 2002 waiver declaration’s opening statements.
Some are worried that the TRIPs Council’s lack of inclusion of pharmaceutical patents into the extension agreement may be a sign of hesitancy to extend the patent deadline past 2016. An MSF statement asserts that “given the crucial importance of pharmaceutical products, LDCs should insist on an unconditional extension, which should last as long as a WTO member is classified as ‘least developed’.”
A vast majority of the cheap, life-saving pharmaceuticals provided to developing countries are generics. According to IRIN News, more than 80% of donor-funded antiretroviral drugs are produced in India. Even though LDCs will have to lobby for the pharmaceutical patent extension themselves in 2015, Aziz ur Rehman, an MSF advisor, suggests that LDCs should use the recent extension as a way to learn from developing countries like India how to bolster manufacturing itself, “especially in the field of pharmaceuticals.”
– Naomi Doraisamy
Source: IRIN News, WTO Ministerial, WTO News
Photo: CIPIT Law Strath