U.S. Trade Official Reiterates Need for Patent Protection ‘Safeguards’ in WTO Prescription Drug Agreement To Increase Access to Antiretroviral, Other Drugs
U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas said Thursday that any World Trade Organization agreement that aims to broaden access to medicines for developing nations must contain "safeguards" to protect intellectual property rights on patented drugs, including antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Reuters, 11/21). In November 2001, a WTO ministerial working group issued a declaration stating that developing nations can override patent protections to manufacture medicines during public health emergencies. The declaration says that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which outlines international patent rules, "can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all." The declaration also states that each WTO member has the right to issue compulsory licenses and the liberty to determine when to issue the licenses. WTO ministers met in Sydney two weeks ago to discuss how to implement this declaration, but they failed to reach a "definitive agreement" on the issue (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/18). Aldonas said that the United States will resist efforts to broaden the definition of "public health crises" that the WTO agreed to last year when it issued the declaration. WTO ministers must be careful not to "undercut the incentive" for pharmaceutical companies to conduct additional research and development into new and existing drugs, and they must enact protections that curb "the potential abuse" of generic drugs manufacture, Aldonas added. "The companies are on board with trying to be helpful, but they need the safeguards so they can stay in the market and continue to be helpful," he stated (Reuters, 11/21).
Editorial Urges United States To Stand Up for Patent Protections
WTO ministers must not expand the list of public health emergencies under which developing nations would be allowed to manufacture or import generic medicines, because doing so could lead to an abuse of the patent protection system, a Wall Street Journal editorial states. The original declaration by WTO ministers allowed for the production or importation of generic medicines for only a few diseases, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. "But the list of alleged justifications for patent seizure seems to be growing longer by the day," and the latest proposals "would allow any country to import copycat drugs when faced with any self-declared epidemic -- be it cancer or erectile dysfunction," the editorial states. Among the nations advocating such an expansion are India and Argentina, two countries that "do not respect patents and have large knock-off pharmaceutical industries looking for new markets," the Journal says. The editorial notes that in India, more than 20,000 drug manufacturers "churn out cheap copies of Viagra and Rogaine for rich urbanites while treating less than 1% of the country's four million HIV cases." The editorial adds that generic drug makers often "fund activists who charge that the high price of patented drugs fuels epidemics like AIDS in Africa." U.S. trade representatives will have to have "courage" during upcoming meetings to "pu[t] a stop to this challenge" on patent protections, the editorial concludes (Wall Street Journal, 11/25).