Brussels, 19 Jan 2005
At a hearing on 18 January, the European Parliament's Trade Committee heard assorted views on whether new intellectual property legislation in developing countries is affecting research and access to medicine.
The World Trade Organisation's TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) agreement was signed in 1995 in order to ensure respect for pharmaceuticals patents. Developing countries were, however, granted a derogation allowing them until 1 January 2005 to bring their intellectual property legislation into line with the agreement.
The difficulty in finding a balance between ensuring that developing countries can afford to import medicines, while also guaranteeing protection for intellectual property so as to stimulate further research, was recognised by all. 'It is our duty to help people and countries in need to obtain medicines they cannot afford. At the same time we must provide the pharmaceutical industry with a regulatory environment that maintains a favourable climate to conduct costly research and development,' said Hungarian MEP Istvan Szent-Ivanyi.
The new situation was described as worrying by representatives of the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association and Médécins sans Frontières, who claimed that an already unsatisfactory situation is now likely to worsen. An adviser to the intellectual property division of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was more positive, saying that the agreement will provide a safety valve.
A number of participants expressed the view that infrastructure and not patents are the reason why many in developing countries do not have access to medicine.
Others present questioned this defence of patents, saying that they are not fostering research and innovation, as many believe them to be. 'Despite strong protection for intellectual property, innovation is stagnating,' claimed Ellen t'Hoen from Médécins sans Frontières. Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter also regretted the lack of research into diseases seen as 'unprofitable', and which mainly affect people in the poorest countries.
Patents were also criticised by Italian MEP Vittorio Emanuele Agnoletto, who claimed that 'the whole of the patent policy needs to be overhauled'. Developing countries are not the only countries affected by TRIPS - healthcare costs in developed countries are driven up by the price of patented drugs, he claimed.
For further information on TRIPS, please consult the following web address: