Intellectual Property Rights Laws Hinder Access to Medicines, Including Antiretroviral Drugs, for Developing Nations, Report States
Intellectual property rights laws are "holding up access to vital medicines," including drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, in poorer nations, and strategies such as compulsory licensing and differential pricing should be implemented to increase access to medicines in developing nations, according to a report released yesterday by the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Dow Jones International News reports (Dow Jones International News, 9/12). The report, titled "Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy," analyzes international patent laws and makes recommendations "aimed at aligning [intellectual property] protection with the goal of reducing poverty." The report states that intellectual property rights largely benefit developed nations, rather than developing countries, in areas such as health and agriculture. While the report acknowledges that patent protections provide an incentive for private firms to invest in research and development, it adds that such protections do not spur research to develop drugs for diseases that are more prevalent in poorer countries. The expansion of intellectual property rights on a global scale will only boost the cost of medicines for developing countries and hamper anti-poverty efforts, the report states. "Developed countries often proceed on the assumption that what is good for them is likely to be good for developing countries. But, in the case of developing countries, more and stronger protection is not necessarily better. Developing countries should not be encouraged or coerced into adopting stronger [intellectual property] rights without regard to the impact this has on their development and [population]," John Barton, chair of CIPR and a law professor at Stanford University, said.
The report recommends several strategies for striking a balance between maintaining both intellectual property protections and access to medicines. Developed nations must take poorer countries' economic needs into account when drafting international patent laws and should pay more attention to "reconciling their commercial self interest with the need to reduce poverty in developing countries," the report states. The commission also recommends that more developing nations engage in compulsory licensing, which allows countries to license a third party to produce a generic version of a patented product. Differential pricing, in which medicines are priced according to a country's economic situation, should also be encouraged. The report suggests that developing nations amend their laws to "facilitate entry of generic competitors as soon as the patent has expired on a particular drug." Developing countries should take advantage of provisions in the TRIPS agreement that allow poorer nations to implement compulsory licensing and other mechanisms in instances of public health emergency. The report also recommends that "least developed countries" be allowed to phase in TRIPS provisions by 2016, rather than 2005 (CIPR release, 9/12). The full report can be viewed online.