[Ip-health] Fix the Patent Laws (SA) new post, 'International patent laws fail the poor: UN commission'

Katie Kirk katie.kirk5 at gmail.com
Fri Jul 20 04:44:46 PDT 2012

An important United Nations commission has made a number of recommendations
for law reform relating to intellectual property and access to medicines.
Notably, the commission recognises that the current international patent
regime does not serve the interests of the poor. The report, entitled “*HIV
and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health*” was published this month by The UN
Development Programme’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law. The
Commission is made up of several leading experts and advocates in HIV,
public health, law and development.
“Where laws do not enhance human well-being and where laws do not respond
to contemporary realities, they must be repealed and replaced by those that
do,” the report said in its conclusion.

Regarding intellectual property, the Commission concludes that current laws
are failing to promote access and innovation that serves the medical needs
of the poor. As such, the Commission has called for a process, to be
convened by the UN Secretary General, to assess proposals for a new regime
for pharmaceutical products.

While that process takes place, the Commission argues, World Trade
Organisation (WTO) members ought to altogether suspend TRIPS, as it relates
to pharmaceutical products for low and middle income countries. TRIPS is a
WTO agreement by which countries are forced to provide 20 years of patent
protection on new inventions, including pharmaceutical medicines. Prior to
TRIPS, India did not grant patents for pharmaceuticals and South Africa
only granted 16 years of patent protection.

Recognising the difficulties countries may face in making such an overhaul,
the Commission recommends that in the meantime, countries should then, to
the extent possible, move to incorporate and use TRIPS flexibilities,
consistent with safeguards, in their own national laws.

Incorporating and using TRIPS flexibilities is of course exactly what the
‘Fix the patent laws’ campaign is all about. You can find more details on
the specific campaign objectives here. And the full report of the
Commission can be accessed here.

Unlike other developing countries like Argentina, Brazil, India and
Thailand, South Africa has not written the most important TRIPS
flexibilities in to our national law. This failure is a significant
contributor to the comparatively high medicines prices paid in both our
public and private sectors.

However, since government is currently revising South Africa’s intellectual
property laws (a draft policy is due to be released for public comment
before the end of August), the opportunity exists to finally write the most
important TRIPS flexibilities into our national legislation. In this
regard, the report from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law provides a
timely reminder about the need to ensure that our patent laws do reflect
contemporary realities, and are indeed geared towards human well-being and
not only to the narrow interests of a few rich countries and pharmaceutical

Note: The report also focused on a number of other important areas not
relating to intellectual property in which law reform might be required. It
provides guidance as to how governments and policy makers, in building a
sustainable response to HIV, can develop laws and practices which are
science based, pragmatic, humane and just. They cover implications for HIV
in policy areas such as discrimination, criminality (in respect of both
heterosexual and same sex sexual practices, prostitution and trafficking),
testing, gender empowerment, police relations, detention policies, and drug
use and harm reduction, amongst others.

We encourage you to read the whole report. It can be found here.

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