patent wars on aids drugs
public health or corporate wealth?
What is IPR?
International Trade Rules on Intellectual Property
The minimum standards of intellectual property (IP) protection (copyrights, trademarks, and patents) that all World Trade Organization (WTO) members must incorporate in their national laws are governed by the "Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement" (TRIPS). The pharmaceutical and recording industries are very concerned with intellectual property (IP) protection, and they were immensely in favor of the TRIPS agreement, as it sets very high standards. Developing countries, on the other hand, do not benefit as much from TRIPS as the larger economies do.
The TRIPS Agreement went into effect in 1996, and countries were given different timelines to comply depending upon their level of development. Intellectual property protection encompasses evaluation of applications, enforcement, a legal system providing redress for violations of IP rights etc - the timeline was drawn out taking into account the complexity of this issue. Most developing countries are expected to be in compliance with the TRIPS Agreement by 2005. The poorest of the developing countries were given time until 2016.
The TRIPS agreement grants 20 years of patent protection to pharmaceutical products. By doing so, innovators and large manufacturers are given monopolistic control over all aspects of production and distribution, namely pricing, of their newly patented medical product during this timeframe. The patent-holding pharmaceutical giants can charge high prices for their drugs because there is simply no competition. Since many people, especially those in poorer countries, cannot afford the highly priced medicines, grave public health consequences are observed, particularly in the case of epidemics like AIDS.
Basics of Intellectual Property (IP)
Intellectual property encompasses inventions, ideas, devices, designs, works and knowledge, in any format. National intellectual property laws provide innovators with a limited monopoly (limit defined by time) over the production and distribution of their product. This provides incentive for the innovators to come up with new ideas, since they can recover the costs of their labor.
To be able to enjoy protection of a novel idea, all innovators must provide full details of their product or invention. In the case of a pharmaceutical product, the formula of the medication and experimental data supporting its effectiveness and safety must be disclosed. The innovators can then market their product freely with full rights to it.
There are, however, exceptional, temporary "safeguards" that enable governments to override IP laws in the case of a national crisis. For instance, in response to a public health emergency, a government may invoke compulsory licensing to address the problem by producing generic versions of the patented drug.
Although the motives behind IP protection laws are good, they are also a cause for major concern, particularly in the case of laws that put affordable medication beyond the reach of millions of people in developing countries. IP rights are crucial when it comes to improving the international competitiveness. Intellectual property rights and patents are the main driving force behind R&D work done around the world. Valuable intellectual property should be offered proper protection, thereby the innovators are not only compensated appropriately for their creation, but some of the profits reaped can be re-invested into generation of more intellectual property. Monopoly does not always signify something bad or evil. However, when setting a goal for profit, the companies should be able to balance profit with consideration of public health. They have to set their costs to something equitable where they reap an honest profit for themselves while ensuring that they are able to bundle money out of this to finance their next generation medicine with due consideration for public health.
Related Links: For further details regarding intellectual property rights please visit, the commission on IP Rights For information relating to intellectual property in the WTO and details of their work with organizations in this field please visit WTO.
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