Should the world’s poorest countries be allowed to continue copying patent-protected drugs?
Dr Enrico Bonadio, a Senior Lecturer in The City Law School analyses the World Trade Organisation’s extension of its waiver permitting least developed countries (LDCs) to copy patented medicines until 2033.
The World Trade Organisation has agreed to extend
a waiver that allows poor countries to copy patented medicines. The waiver,
which was due to expire in January 2016, has now been extended to 2033.
The countries that will benefit from the
waiver are the 48 poorest nations, classified by the United Nations as “Least
Developed Countries” or LDCs, and include many African and some Asian
countries. About half of the 900m population across these countries live on
less than US$1.25 a day.
All other countries, including developing
countries such as India and China, are still bound by the WTO’s agreement on
trade-related intellectual property rights (or TRIPS) with respect to drug
patents. The waiver is critical for the least
developed countries. Compared with richer countries, they have a much higher
disease burden, especially infectious diseases such as HIV and malaria. In
2011, about 9.7m people in these countries were living with HIV. Many of the drugs that treat these diseases
are still under patent protection. Drug patents last for 20 years and allow
drugs companies time to recoup their investment into research and development
and turn a profit. Once the patent protection period ends, other drugs
companies can then copy the drug and sell it as a generic medicine. These
generics are much cheaper than branded drugs.
World Trade Organisation (WTO)
The World Trade
Organisation (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with
the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated
and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their
parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters,
and importers conduct their business.