IPR Vs access to healthcare – UPSC GS3

  • Intellectual Property rules governed by TRIPS agreement are hindering equal access to basic healthcare to fight covid.
  • Quick and efficient vaccination is the most appropriate way to achieve global herd immunity against the virus.
  • However, compliance with TRIPS agreement deprives developing and least developed countries of their right to access affordable medical products.
  • Hence, countries like India and South Africa requested a temporary suspension of rules under the 1995 TRIPS Agreement.
  • But a group of states, the U.S., the European Union, the U.K., and Canada continues to block the waiver requested by India and South Africa in WTO.
  • Compliance with the TRIPS agreement will hamper global efforts to eradicate Covid-19 at the earliest.
India and Patent laws
  • India adopted the colonial-era laws that allowed for pharmaceutical patents.
  • But in 1959, a committee chaired by Justice Rajagopala Ayyangar objected to this on ethical grounds.
  • The committee stated that access to drugs at affordable prices is affected due to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs.
  • It also found that foreign corporations are misusing patent laws to avoid competition and to maintain monopolies. Further, lack of competition has given rise to exorbitant rates charged for essential medical drugs.
  • With this backdrop, the Patents Act, 1970, was passed. It offered protection only over claims to process, and it helped to remove monopolies in pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Further, it also allowed for the growth of generic manufacturers in India. As a result, life-saving drugs were made available to people at more affordable prices.
  • For instance, drugs that reduce AIDS deaths in developed nations were made non-accessible for the rest of the world due to high costs.
  • However, generic versions of these medicines manufactured in India helped to lower the price of AIDS drugs.
  • But, with the advent of the TRIPS agreement in 1995, patent laws were again strengthened. Under WTO’s TRIPS agreement, countries violating patent laws are penalized by sanctions.
What are the arguments in support of protecting Patents?
  • A patent is an exclusive right that a state gives to an innovator to make, use and sell an inventive product or process.
  • Patent laws are usually justified on three distinct grounds:
    • One, it is the natural and moral right of the people to claim control over their inventions.
    • Two, exclusive licences promote invention and therefore benefit society as a whole.
    • Three, individuals should be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their labor and merit
Why the above arguments are refuted?
  • Claim that the removal of patent protection will incur a loss to the company involved in research and development is untrue. For instance, public money accounted for more than 97% of the funding towards the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
  • Idea that patents are the only means available to promote innovation undermines other alternatives to promote innovation. For instance, prize funds for medical research can replace the patent system. It will be more efficient and more equitable as public funds will incentivize research while ensuring affordable medicines.
TRIPS regime is an example of inequitable existing world order. There is a need for a global collective action to replace the existing rules that place the right to access basic healthcare in danger.
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