Organized in close collaboration with the Secretariats of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the workshop stressed that optimal results for public health require many dimensions to be taken into account. This includes implementing an intellectual property regime and, where appropriate, using the flexibilities in intellectual property rules that are available for achieving domestic policy objectives.
The 2013 workshop was the ninth in a series held in Geneva on Intellectual Property and Public Health. The event forms part of the well-established cooperation between the WHO, WIPO and the WTO that is designed to build capacity on issues at the crossroad between intellectual property rights and public health.
Flexibilities and policy options available under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and other intellectual property treaties administered by WIPO figured prominently on the agenda, as much as they play a key role in other WTO national and regional technical cooperation events too.
The workshop covered a large variety of topics around the question of access to medicines and innovation in the pharmaceutical sector, including, but not limited to intellectual property rights. Like in earlier workshops of this kind held since 2005, the purpose was to raise participants’ awareness of the need to take a holistic approach and to ensure that knowledge across different sectors is properly involved in the domestic policy making process.
Presentations made by representatives of the WHO, WIPO and the WTO demonstrated how different expertise can be usefully brought together to complement each other.
What was covered
After a thorough introduction into the key concepts of intellectual property protection and the flexibilities contained in the TRIPS Agreement that are directly relevant to public health, the workshop familiarized participants with the additional flexibility made available to WTO members, often also referred to as the “Paragraph 6 System”.
Under this mechanism, special compulsory licences can be granted solely for the purpose of producing and exporting medicines needed in countries which do not have sufficient capacities to manufacture those medicines at home.
The following day was dedicated to health-related topics. Among others, it offered insights regarding licensing policies adopted by the industry, issues related to access to antiretrovirals and to cancer treatment, regulatory approval of medicines, as well as the protection of clinical data.
The third and fourth days covered some of the broader aspects directly related to intellectual property rights and public health, such as the economics of health technologies, the need to have transparent and efficient rules in place that support the procurement of medicines, the role that competition rules can play in order to achieve the best outcome for public health, and key elements in bilateral and regional trade agreements that are relevant to the pharmaceutical sector.
During the final round of discussions, representatives from selected WTO members, as well as from Doctors without Borders and the pharmaceutical industry, shared their views regarding the role that IPRs can more generally play to achieve public health objectives.
Throughout the workshop, participants were provided with an opportunity to report on their countries’ specific needs in the health sector and to share experiences regarding the implementation of the intellectual property regime, the management of intellectual property rights and the use of flexibilities.
A number of practical exercises and discussion rounds helped shaping the interactive nature of the workshop. Participants unanimously pointed out the usefulness of the workshop for their activities in their home countries and underlined the unique possibility to exchange ideas with counterparts from around the world. They welcomed the comprehensive approach taken, not least because it would also help improve coordination back home among domestic stakeholders.The 27 participants came both from health and trade ministries, as well as from intellectual property offices. Representatives of the following countries were present: Argentina, Bahamas, Belarus, Brazil, Cape Verde, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Ghana, Iran, Laos, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mongolia, Philippines, Samoa, South Africa, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam, Yemen and Zimbabwe.