Demystifying intellectual property (IP) and providing advocacy tools.
The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition – MENA (ITPC-MENA) with the support of ITPC Global and the Make Medicines Affordable campaign held a 3-day workshop on intellectual property, 19-21 October 2017, to start a dialogue on the impact of intellectual property rules on access to medicines. The 28 participants represented the following francophone countries: Algeria, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Cote d’Ivoire, France, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco.
The workshop was designed to demystify the concept of intellectual property and to provide tools that would allow participants to advocate more effectively for access to treatment. The main themes addressed the link between intellectual property and human rights as well as the role of activists in regards to access to treatment.
The lack of access to essential medicines can be explained in large part by high prices and the monopolies held by multinational pharmaceutical companies. A major goal of this meeting was to provide participants with critical information on patent law and on the different flexibilities and intellectual property rights in specific national contexts such as Tunisia, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa. These regions are characterized by an urgent need for law reform that would improve access to medicines, but that would also require the use of TRIPS flexibilities (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property).
The training was also an opportunity to highlight the work that associations, governments and civil society have undertaken that has resulted in increased awareness of the need to implement flexibilities allowed by the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules and ensure access to medicines at affordable prices.
Participants learned about the different obstacles that can prevent access to medicines, such as the procedures of patent offices and downsides of voluntary licenses. They also left the meeting with the tools that will allow them to improve patent procedures, including stricter patentability criteria, transparency in the examination process, opposition mechanisms, the process for compulsory licenses and parallel imports.
ITPC-MENA believes that a comprehensive understanding of these concepts puts HIV and Hepatitis C activists in a stronger position when advocating for universal access to medicines and healthcare, something that certain patent holders are currently impeding.