Trade Officials At WIPO Fail To Make Progress On Proposals To Improve Access To Generic Medicines

Trade officials met last week at the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization “to make progress on a proposal that would allow poor countries to provide inexpensive generic versions of lifesaving medications, rather than rely a single version of the same drugs under expensive patent monopolies,” but the U.S. “remained steadfast in rejecting proposals aimed at lowering the prices of existing medicines in poor countries,” the Huffington Post reports (Carter, 5/29). At the 18th session of the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), delegates considered two proposals, according to Intellectual Property Watch. The news service notes that a South African proposal (.pdf), submitted on behalf of the African Group and the Development Agenda Group (DAG), would have assisted developing nations adapt their patent schemes “to make full use of the flexibilities available in the international patent system in the interest of public health,” and a U.S. proposal (.pdf) “warned against any weakening of patent protection as a solution to the lack of availability of medicine in developing countries” because, “the delegate said, less patent rights would be detrimental to innovation” (Saez, 5/25).

In its statement (.doc), the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said, “Some of the public health issues facing developing and least developed countries (DC/LDCs) include neglected diseases, the spread of TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS, and availability of medicines to treat these and other ailments. There is no easy solution to these problems. Reducing patent protection is not likely to solve these thorny issues.” The statement continues, “Weakening patent protection for innovative medicines is not a productive approach to improving availability of health care, because many other factors other than patents more directly affect the availability of medicines” (5/23). “That statement prompted outrage” from some advocates, the Huffington Post writes. Knowledge Ecology International published an open letter regarding the U.S. proposal, asking, “Are you trying to say that reducing patent protection for AIDS drugs in developing countries did not enhance access to medicines? If so, where have you been the past 15 years?” (5/29). In addition, a group of 34 non-governmental organizations, including Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres, on Thursday “issued a letter (.doc) strongly supporting the African Group/DAG proposal on public health and reacting to the U.S. proposal, asking the country to withdraw it,” IPW reports (5/25).

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