NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drug Patents Under Assault

November 25, 2002

The Wall Street Journal warns that countries and allied activist groups are trying to use the latest World Trade Organization negotiations, called the Doha round, to strip away protection for drug patents.

  • Last year's Doha declaration said the world's poorest countries should be allowed to ignore patents when faced with epidemics including HIV, malaria and TB.
  • The United States went along with the measure because of its narrow scope, and even the U.S. drug industry didn't object.
  • But the list of alleged justifications for patent seizure is growing -- the latest drafts would allow any country to import copycat drugs when faced with any self-declared epidemic -- be it cancer or erectile dysfunction.

Behind the WTO move are countries like India and Argentina, which do not respect patents and have large knock-off pharmaceutical industries. These industries fund activists who charge that the high price of patented drugs fuels epidemics like AIDS in Africa.

But drug patents aren't responsible for the lack of access to medicines in poor countries.

  • Many poor countries lack the health infrastructure to distribute medicines or even diagnose disease, and numerous attempts by pharmaceutical companies to provide them with cheap drugs have found few takers.
  • In India 20,000-plus drug makers churn out cheap copies of Viagra and Rogaine for rich urbanites while treating less than 1 percent of the country's 4 million HIV cases.

America, Britain and Switzerland are the only countries with innovative, research-based pharmaceutical industries, and thus the only ones interested in standing up for patent rights. The WTO is expected to approve a draft resolution on drug patent rights in December; but unless it includes patent right protections, the United States should walk away from the table.

Source: Editorial, " The Assault on Drug Patents," Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2002.

For text (requires WSJ subscription),,SB1038185396246563548,00.html


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