trade agreement called hypocritical
By Sarah Lai Stirland
Switzerland, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- International humanitarian aid activists
Wednesday questioned what they called hypocritical measures in the World
Trade Organization's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
agreement that block Third World access to reasonably priced medicine.
complaints with the TRIPS agreement came just several days before their
representatives join delegates from 141 other nations in Doha, Qatar,
to monitor the talks on it.
"What's going to happen later this
week and the beginning of next week is going to be very important and
will change the way medicines are provided to developing countries (for
the long term)," said Ellen 't Hoen, of the not-for-profit group Doctors
The TRIPS agreement is a global intellectual
property measure that seeks to harmonize and establish minimal threshholds
of protection for all kinds of intellectual property, ranging from patents
on Barbie dolls to life-saving medicines.
Academics and lawyers who have studied
the agreement say the overall effect globally is to increase the level
of protection for intellectual property, since many countries do not have
federal laws protecting such property.
The agreement establishes a period
of 20 years before patents can expire and calls for countries at various
levels of development to comply with the agreement by various deadlines.
Industrialized nations already should
be enforcing federal laws complying with the agreements. Less developed
countries do not have to comply until 2006.
Worried these patents would grant the
world's largest pharmaceutical companies monopolies that would make life-saving
drugs too expensive for their populations, 60 of the WTO developing country
members have sought to have a new "declaration" inserted into the agreement.
It would say, "Nothing in the TRIPs agreement shall prevent countries
from taking measures in protecting and promote public health."
Doctors Without Borders, along with
activist groups the Consumer Project in Technology in Washington, D.C.,
and the Health Gap Coalition in Philadelphia pointed to the threats by
the United States and Canada to compulsorily license patented drugs, like
Cipro, to ensure adequate supplies for their citizens in case of a massive
bioterrorist attack, as an example of what Third World countries were
trying to do for their own populaces.
After the initial threats, both Canada
and United States governments were able to negotiate lower prices for
the antibiotics while the pharmaceutical company patents remained intact.
"It dramaticizes really well what the
risk to the public health really is when the sanctity of the patent is
so viciously upheld at any cost whether here at home or abroad," said
Asia Russell, an AIDS activist with the Health Gap Coalition.
Among other provisions, the activists
and the 60 countries want the ability to enable compulsorily licensing
of the patented drugs so generic versions can be made available to sick
populations in their countries at lower cost.
But pharmaceutical companies oppose
these measures, saying they would render patents ineffective and would
remove the industry's incentive to research and develop new medicines.
An industry spokesman called the activists misguided.
"We think that they're providing them
false hopes in Africa and very poor people around the world to believe
that if they change patent protection, they will have access to medicines,"
said Mark Grayson, spokesman for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research
and Manufacturers of America.
Grayson also deflected criticism about
pharmaceutical companies to governments of developing. "South Africa just
announced a $5 billion program to build up their military armaments, submarines
and things like that. They aren't putting any extra money into AIDs,"
James G. Conley, an engineering professor
at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University
and a partner at Chicago Partners, a company that helps companies with
intellectual property strategies and valuations, said large publicly traded
pharmaceutical companies hold a fiduciary obligation to shareholders to
make as much money as they can.
In addition, he said, they have to
recoup the huge costs associated with researching and developing new drugs.
He said few pharmaceutical compounds researched ever make it to market
so patents, which are effectively monopolies for a limited time period,
are the only way to provide an incentive for drug companies to develop
any new products.
"The costs of bringing a single drug
to market often exceeds a quarter to half a billion U.S. dollars," he
said. "What industry is going to take such a risk without some limited
window to recover the cost of that investment?"
Conley suggested governments have to
play a bigger role by coming up with their own innovative solutions. One
way would be for the U.S. government to grant pharmaceutical companies
tax breaks in exchange for lower drug prices. The tax breaks could be
considered a form of foreign aid, he said. Or governments in Third World
countries could offer the pharmaceutical companies tax breaks as incentives
for developing drugs for local diseases.