NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2007

If you care about property rights -- or access to new medicine for the world's poor -- keep your eye on the current fight over Thailand's attempt to confiscate drug patents.  The brawl is getting messier by the day, says the Wall Street Journal.

Consider the recent developments:

  • Thailand's military government decided to revoke an Abbott Laboratories patent for its new blockbuster AIDS drug, which followed a similar move against Merck in November.
  • Thailand's Ministry of Public Health announced it would issue "compulsory licenses" for medications produced by Abbott and Sanofi-Aventis -- meaning that Thailand will eventually produce generic copies of these drugs.
  • At a meeting of the executive board of the World Health Organization, Thai representative Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert proposed holding Western tourists hostage until Bangkok received flu vaccines from foreign companies.

But perhaps even worse has been the response by international governing bodies, says the Journal:

  • Peter Piot, head of the United Nations joint program on HIV/AIDS, wrote that the decision to retract Merck's HIV/AIDS drug patent showed the country's commitment to provide access to antiretrovirals and lower the cost of the drugs.
  • World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan, after initially criticizing Thailand's intellectual property abuse, retracted her statement saying it should not be taken as a criticism of the decision of the Royal Thai government to issue compulsory licenses.

Ultimately, Thai patients will be the losers, at least in the short term, says the Journal.  In the long run, hopefully state officials will learn that drug patents are a globally recognized way to guarantee a return on investment in producing new therapies and there will be no incentive to innovate if governments can revoke them with impunity.

Source: Editorial, "The Thai Flu," Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2007.

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