UK Commission Report Highlights Negative Impacts Of IPRS On Development

18 September 2002

The UK Commission on Intellectual Property Rights (CIPR) -- an independent body set up in May 2001 by the British government -- released its final report on 12 September, setting out a number of recommendations aimed at aligning intellectual property rights (IPR) protection with efforts to reduce poverty in developing countries. Many civil society groups welcomed the report as a reflection of widespread concerns regarding the IPR regime. Some industry groups, however, expressed concerns about the Commission's endorsement of compulsory licensing and parallel imports as means to address problems of access to medicines in poor countries.

Access to medicines, TRIPs and patents on life forms

Overall, the Commission concludes that the IPR system is not as beneficial for developing countries as for industrialised countries, as the system increases the cost of accessing many products and technologies of interest to poorer regions. The report furthermore points out that stronger IPR protection is not necessarily better for developing countries. "Developing countries should not be coerced into adopting stronger IP rights without regard to the impact this has on their development and poor people," said John Barton, Chair of the Commission. Instead, the IP systems should be tailored to the country's state of development and its particular circumstances, the Commission concludes.

Regarding IPRs and access to medicines, the report points out that without the incentive of patents, the investment by the private sector into the development of new medicines would likely have been much lower. At the same time, however, the IP system "hardly plays any role in stimulating research on diseases particularly prevalent in developing countries" unless there is a substantial market in the industrialised world, the report notes. To facilitate access to medicines at a lower price, the Commission endorses the use of compulsory licensing, differential pricing and parallel imports, while stressing the need to "prevent leakage of product from the intended recipient to other markets".

The Commission furthermore recommends extending the transition period for least-developed countries to implement the Agreement on Trade- related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) at least until 2016. "Countries should have to apply TRIPs based on their own development milestones, not based on an arbitrary date," Barton said.

With respect to patents on life forms (as allowed under Article 27.3(b) of the TRIPs Agreement), the report discourages developing countries from providing patent protection for plants and animals because of the restrictions such patents may place on the use of seeds by farmers and researchers. Also, the report recommends that IPR applicants should be required to disclose the geographic source of the genetic resources and provide proof that they were acquired with the prior informed consent of the country from which they were taken. Developing countries, including India and Brazil, have long been calling for such requirements to be implemented both at the TRIPs Council and at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (see BRIDGES Trade BioRes, 11 July 2002).

NGOs welcome report while industry groups remain cautious

Civil society group Oxfam welcomed the report as "powerful evidence- based critique of the health and development problems caused by the one- size-fits-all approach of WTO patent rules". In particular, the report's findings reflect many of the concerns put forward by developing countries, academics, NGOs and others regarding IPRs and medicines, Oxfam pointed out. The report's failure to call for the reform of the TRIPs Agreement, Oxfam added, reflected "the authors' pessimism about current power imbalances at the WTO". Médecins Sans Frontières also welcomed the report, which they said supported their view that compulsory licences should not be an exception but should become the rule. Similarly, ActionAid saw the report as a "big step in acknowledging that intellectual property rights legislation has a detrimental effect on poor countries". The group also noted, however, that whether the Commission's recommendations are actually put into action would now depend upon the political will of the UK Government.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) was pleased with the report's recognition of the role of IPRs in the promotion of invention, especially with regard to new medicines. But the ABPI expressed concern regarding the Commission's proposal to use compulsory licensing and parallel imports as means to address developing countries' difficulties in accessing affordable medicines. Instead, the ABPI emphasised the use of "differential pricing, combined with adequate funding for infrastructure of health delivery as a positive step forward".

The full CIPR report and an executive summary are available at:

TRIPs Council discusses similar issues

Some of the issues raised in the CIPR report are currently being addressed by the WTO's TRIPs Council at its 17-19 September regular session, to be followed by a special (negotiating) session on 20 September. During the Council's discussions, WTO Members' positions regarding paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on TRIPs and Public Health remained largely unchanged. [Para.6 of the Declaration instructs Members to find an "expeditious solution" to the problem that Members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector could face in making effective use of compulsory licensing (see BRIDGES Weekly, 3 July 2002).] The TRIPs Council will try to resolve the remaining disagreements at an informal meeting in October as well as at informal consultations ahead of the next regular TRIPs Council session in November. BRIDGES Weekly will report in more detail on the outcomes of the September TRIPs Council meeting in the forthcoming issue.

"Independent Commission finds intellectual property rights impose costs on most developing countries and do not help to reduce property," CIPR, 12 September; "Oxfam's initial response to the report of the UK CIPR," OXFAM, 12 September; "MSF Comments on CIPR report," MSF, 12 September; "Government Commissioned report throws TRIPs agreement into question," ACTIONAID, 12 September; "Patents are essential in fight against world disease, ABPI says in response to CIPR report," ABPI, 12 September 2002.  

This article is published under
18 September 2002
At a 10-11 September special (negotiating) session of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), the US tabled a proposal outlining its ideas on how to achieve a "more open and transparent process" by...
25 September 2002
SUPACHAI HEARS LEAST-DEVELOPED COUNTRIES' CONCERNS On 24 September, WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi met with representatives of least-developed country (LDC) Members to discuss their...