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Balancing Intellectual Monopoly Privileges and the Need for Essential Medicines


The World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has remained controversial ever since its inception at the behest of some of the world's largest multinational corporations. Balancing the need to protect the intellectual property rights (IPRs) (which the third author considers are more accurately described as intellectual monopoly privileges (IMPs)) of pharmaceutical companies, with the need to ensure access to essential medicines in developing countries is one of the most pressing challenges facing international policy makers today. In order for Commonwealth nations to craft and implement IPR (or IMP) legislation that realises this balance, decision-makers need to capitalise on the flexibilities and provisions afforded by the agreement, particularly compulsory licensing.

Nonetheless, the industry-influenced US Trade Representative (USTR) routinely opposes the use of such flexibilities and, despite contrary injunctions in US law, has sought to restrict them in a series of bilateral putatively 'free' trade agreements.

Despite recent advancements in prevention and treatment in many regions of the world, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria continue to scourge the poorest and most vulnerable of the global population. The vast majority of those suffering from these diseases live in developing countries, where low wages, high pharmaceutical prices and poor access to medical services means there is limited, if any, access to many of the life- saving drugs currently available in industrialised countries. In fact, about one-third of the world's population does not have access to essential medicines. Currently, 80 percent of the world's population lives in developing countries, but consumes less than 20 percent of all pharmaceuticals.

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