Three United Nations agencies have joined together to explain to their member countries the little-understood but hard-won flexibilities they have to stiff international intellectual property rules. The focus of a new policy brief issued today is on improving access to HIV treatment, and it offers a series of actions for governments and international organisations.
At issue are the “flexibilities” built into the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the 1994 agreement that constructed a strong IP enforcement system. Negotiators at the time worked in a variety of exceptions and limitations that less-developed countries could employ to soften any negative impacts of stricter enforcement and ensure they retained the ability to take actions in their own best interest.
An example is in the public health area, where nations are given the choice to issue compulsory licences for patented drugs in order to produce cheaper generic versions of them, if they deem it necessary.
Use of flexibilities has been discouraged by developed countries – owners of the vast majority of IP rights – and pressure not to use them has been intense especially on emerging markets like Thailand or Brazil. But UN agencies emphasise the over-riding human rights principles embodied in UN declarations. They also highlight in the brief the increasing and treatable number of people afflicted with HIV in developing regions.
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