This four-day WTO Workshop was the seventh to be held in Geneva and was organized by the WTO Secretariat in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It was part of the cooperation between the three international organizations on issues arising when intellectual property rights and public health are linked, and one of the WTO’s many technical cooperation and capacity building activities.
Like earlier workshops held in Geneva since 2005, it aimed to ensure that the participants get a comprehensive overview of the key issues which affect the promotion of innovation and access to medicines.
The workshop’s content included the information necessary for their countries to make use of the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement’s flexibilities, which allow countries to adapt intellectual property protection to meet public health and other purposes.
Underlying the workshop were the needs that are special to public health, from innovation to patients’ ability to obtain pharmaceutical products. Presentations, discussions and practical exercises looked at the TRIPS Agreement and the management of intellectual property rights as applied to concrete health-related projects.
The workshop familiarized participants with the key concepts under the TRIPS Agreement and other intellectual property instruments, and how their provisions can be implemented in national law.
It covered a range of subjects including the additional flexibility agreed by members in August 2003 and December 2005 to allow generic versions of patented medicines to be made under compulsory licence for export to countries that cannot manufacture the medicines themselves, usually referred to as the “paragraph 6 system”. Other TRIPS provisions and flexibilities directly relevant to public health and future needs were also examined.
A particular emphasis was laid on pricing and procurement policies as a key element in securing access to medicines, and experts from major procurement initiatives shared their practical experiences with participants.
Among the other issues covered were those related to the safety, efficacy and quality of medicines, technology transfer and local production, the role of competition policy, and intellectual property rights provisions in regional or bilateral free trade agreements, and their link with public health.
The World Health Organization (WHO)’s and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s contributions to the workshop demonstrated how the three organizations use their different expertise to work together.
To complete the picture, a number of other speakers shared their experiences and views on certain key issues directly relevant to public health. They included representatives of some WTO members, the research and development (R&D) and generic industries, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Frontiers), the Global Fund and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. The programme therefore offered a rounded view of the issues at the crossroad between intellectual property rights and public health.
TRIPS public health flexibilities also figure prominently in other WTO national and regional technical cooperation events. Similar regional workshops have been held for African countries in Mauritius in June 2006, for the Asia Pacific region in Macao in July 2007 and for Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2008.The participants in this came from: Belarus, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Moldova, Myanmar, Nepal, Paraguay, Philippines, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.