Tag Archives: IP watch

Public Health and IPR Act in the headlines – at last

Business Day yesterday published my story on the clash between WHO’s Public Health strategy and the South African IPR Act (see the gray area blog article on the same topic a few weeks ago for a different version of the same argument). I am glad that there is at last some discussion of these issues in the media, which tends to treat IPR issues as too arcane to engage with, although the Treatment Action Campaign has gone a long way towards dissipating that view.

In the mean time, the discussion on IPR and public health in developing countries continues unabated. There is an interview in the IP Watch newsletter with Ellen t’Hoen, the senior advisor on intellectual property and medicines patent pool at UNITAID, a financing mechanism for the scale-up of treatments for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  t Hoen recently published a book entitled, The Global Politics Of Pharmaceutical Monopoly Power.

The concern t’Hoen expresses relates to potential problems with the availability of cheaper generic medicines in developing countries. The countries that use the DOHA provisions for the import of generics for public health reasons (mostly for HIV AiIDs) rely heavily on imports from India.  Now , she says, there is a change looming that is likely to threaten this (perfectly legal) supply:

Indian producers are able to make generic versions of these medicines because of the 1970 Indian Patents Act which excluded product patents for medicines. As of 2005, India has to comply with the TRIPS Agreement and has started to grant product patents on medicines. So very soon this is going to change. Generic versions of newer drugs will not become available automatically until after the 20-year patent term has run out. Unless of course India starts granting compulsory licences or other mechanisms are put in place to ensure that generic producers can continue to play this role, such as the patent pool.

‘t Hoen has sharp words to say about the fact that special provisions for affordable drugs in developing countries, at the insistence of the rights holders,  apply only to neglected diseases and exclude non-communicable diseases. Asked whether there was significance in this distinction, she replied, ‘Well from a medical point of view, of course there isn’t – it’s whether you die of AIDS or whether you die of heart disease… well, you’re dead. It’s just as serious.’  She is equally sharp with the argument that patent protection is needed to ensure research and development of new drugs and limit the supply of new drugs for developing country diseases:

In the past pharmaceutical companies have en masse abandoned research into neglected diseases. That’s why they became neglected diseases. Much of the innovation for tropical diseases comes from military research and government research that comes out of the old colonial systems: the tropical disease centres and the Vietnam War, which gave for example a number of malaria drugs.

So I don’t quite see that argument. I don’t think that if we close down the generic industry in the developing world that big pharma will spontaneously start reinvesting in tropical neglected diseases.

This is disturbing but very cogent stuff about why IPR does matter – read it.

Collaborative and open innovation in the global limelight

June was a hectic month. (That sounds like a parody of TS Eliot, but it really was a hectic month.) There is a lot to catch up with, so I will provide a series of posts, on a variety of topics. The general message seems to be that times are a-changing and that there is an increasing dynamic weight behind open access and open innovation approaches, particularly (but not only) for developing countries. With the major international organisations weighing in and with our new Minister of Higher Education joining the debate at UNESCO, these are indeed interesting times.

As a follow-on from the discussion of innovation and the SA IPR Act in recent blog postings, a  week-old UN debate is relevant, showing up yet again how much the SA legislation seems to be going against global trends.

The  Intellectual Property Watch Newsletter 0f 6 July reported that ‘innovation and technology will be key to emergence from the global economic crisis, according to speakers at a recent United Nations conference on innovation-based competitiveness. However, innovation should be collaborative and involve resources inside and outside companies and institutions.’
The “International Conference on Technological Readiness for Innovation-based Competitiveness” was organised by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 29-30 June. According to the IP Watch report, a number of speakers at this conference spoke about the need for collaborative innovation, or what  Paula Wasowska, director for Central and Eastern Europe market development for Cisco Systems, described as “connected innovation.”  Connected innovation requires cultural change to collaborative sharing of information, skills and perspectives within organisations and between them, the customers and the partners. “Innovation happens when people work together,” she is reported as saying.

“Innovation is moving from the in-house to the connected global market place, from the isolated individuals to collaborative environment…from proprietary control to open source, from single specialties to multidisciplinary perspective,” she said, and customers have become a critical force of competitive data as they are an invaluable force of information.

In general, this conference seemed to signal the  general acceptance of a shift from a competitive approach to innovation to a collaborative one, even where the mega-corporations like Microsoft and Intel are concerned. This collaboration takes place in and between companies and non-commercial organisations. The ethos, as Wasowska points out, is one of open sharing.

Even more striking was the statement by Claran McGinley, controller at the European Patent Office, that the patent system for ICTs is not working. The important thing about open innovation McGinley is reported as saying, is that “it is a team effort and crosses boundaries.”

The full IP Watch report can be found here.