China Does Its Part Re: TRIPs & Compulsory Licensing

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Almost missed this news from a couple weeks ago. I’ve written about this issue before from different angles, but the key here is a provision in WTO law that allows countries to temporarily force the licensing of a patent against the wishes of the patent holder. This can be done in very narrow cases, for example if there is a public health emergency, and the country does not have access to a sufficient supply of medicine.

There have been some huge fights over this, usually with the pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. on one side and developing countries on the other. Way back in the 90s, the WTO issued a declaration confirming that the law (specifically TRIPs, which covers intellectual property) does indeed provide for compulsory licensing.

The next problem was what to do in situations when a country needed access to something but did not have domestic production capabilities. It was unclear whether a third country could manufacture based on a license issued from the country in distress. Again, the WTO declared that yes, the law should allow for this, and the trade body stated that it would ask its members to change the law to conform to this principle.

It’s been quite a few years since this first came up, yet little has been done. You need two-thirds of the 151 members to sign off on the change, and until a couple weeks ago, there had only been 12 countries that had ratified the changes.

China became number 13:

China notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Wednesday that it had ratified the Protocol Amending the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Chinese Ambassador Sun Zhenyu sent a notification letter to WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy together with the instrument of ratification signed by President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, said the Chinese mission to the WTO.

The Protocol Amending the TRIPS Agreement, done at Geneva on Dec. 6 2005, means to allow WTO members to export patented medicines to third countries with no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector, by making use of compulsory licenses.

Good for China. Where’s everyone else?