[Ip-health] IP-Watch: Questions Over WIPO Statements At UN Secretary-General’s Panel On Access To Medicines

Zack Struver zack.struver at keionline.org
Wed Feb 17 07:41:41 PST 2016


Questions Over WIPO Statements At UN Secretary-General’s Panel On Access To


The World Intellectual Property Organization, a specialized agency of the
United Nations, was unique among Geneva-based UN agencies for offering
views at both recent meetings of the UN High-Level Panel on Access to
Medicines held in Geneva and New York this month. Now WIPO has come under
criticism from some public health advocates for the views it gave.

The panel was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December
(IPW, Public Health, 16 December 2015) with a deadline of June 2016. Its
objective is “to review and assess proposals and recommend solutions for
remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of
inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in
the context of health technologies.”

WIPO representatives intervening at member state briefings in Geneva and
New York on 1 and 4 February, respectively, gave a message of concern about
the underlying assumptions of the panel.

The nongovernmental organisations sent a letter dated 11 February to WIPO
Director General Francis Gurry with their own concerns about the WIPO
message to the panel. The health groups signing the letter include
Knowledge Ecology International, Oxfam, StopAIDS, Treatment Action
Campaign, and Third World Network.

Tom Bombelles, head of global health at WIPO, was quoted in the letter as
telling the Geneva gathering that WIPO is “sensitive” to the assumption
that there is “policy incoherence between using intellectual property laws
and regulations to encourage innovation, and the imperative of delivering
medicines and other health services to those in need.”

Similarly, the WIPO representative to the UN in New York, Lucinda
Longcroft, was quoted saying WIPO is “sensitive to any assumption in the
HLP mandate that there is a policy incoherence between using IP laws and
regulations to encourage innovation and the imperative of delivering
medicine and health services to those in need.”

Intellectual Property Watch attended and reported on both meetings (IPW,
Public Health, 1 February 2016; IPW, Public Health, 5 February 2016).

The WIPO representatives also mentioned a trilateral study published
jointly by WIPO, the World Health Organization, and World Trade
Organization as “adding light, not heat,” to the at-times controversial
issue. Neither the WHO nor the WTO representatives mentioned the concern
about the panel mandate in their remarks at the Geneva meeting. WHO and WTO
did not present views in New York. WIPO’s involvement in health issues at a
more concentrated level is relatively recent, dating back a few years.

The Secretary-General’s panel has invited as much input as possible, and
this week extended the deadline for contributions to 28 February.

“Profoundly Disturbing”

The NGOs in their letter called the WIPO reservations about the mandate on
policy incoherence “remarkable” and “profoundly disturbing.”

They said the WIPO remarks are “based on erroneous assumptions” themselves,
as “they imply that IP protection – especially patents and the grant of
monopolies – are the critical mechanism to support product development.”

Rather, they said, “while under the current system patents play a role in
innovation, the costs are high, and equating patent protection with
innovation both overstates the importance of patent monopolies and ignores
the possibilities of reforms that eliminate the trade-offs between
innovation and access.”

The WIPO interventions also overlook the limitations of the current system
with “market failure in the funding of basic science, unbiased comparative
clinical trials, neglected diseases, antibiotics, rare diseases, and global
health threats such as Ebola, unwanted rationing of medicines, excessive
prices and unequal access,” they said.

The letter raised an earlier heated debate at the WTO that arose in the
context of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS), and which resulted in the 2001 Doha Declaration on
TRIPS and Public Health.

The letter also provided details of a 2011 proposal to the WIPO Standing
Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP), which raised concerns about policy
incoherence in public health related to IP rights.

Official WIPO Position?

The letter asked the WIPO secretariat to clarify whether the views of the
WIPO officials were “a reflection of the WIPO secretariat’s official
position?” If so, the letter asks how it fits with the 2007 WIPO
Development Agenda, and the “robust (and unresolved)” discussions on
patents and health in the WIPO SCP.

Bombelles came to WIPO as an expert from the US pharmaceutical industry. It
was noted by some observers that the US government was the only one to
voice strong concerns about the mandate of the high-level panel during the
recent meetings.

Intellectual Property Watch asked one of the high-level panellists at the
New York meeting a question about how the representatives were chosen, and
was told that it is up to the organisation to designate its representative.
Intellectual Property Watch has not asked WIPO about the choice, but it is
logical that the head of public health in Geneva and the New York
representative would be the representatives. It might be less clear whether
the message reflects an agreed view of the WIPO membership.

WIPO is a member-state driven organisation, and it remains to be seen
whether questions will be raised by WIPO member states, which historically
have a range of views on these issues.

Zack Struver, Communications and Research Associate
Knowledge Ecology International
zack.struver at keionline.org
Twitter: @zstruver <https://twitter.com/zstruver>
Office: +1 (202) 332-2670 Cell: +1 (914) 582-1428

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