Russian Federation’s updated patent law puts public health first

The Russian Federation parliament voted this week (13 April 2021) to enshrine into the law the country’s right to enact a compulsory or ‘government-use’ license on essential health related technologies, when it ‘is in the interest of public health’.

All countries have the right to issue a compulsory license to ensure access to essential medicines and other health related products. This effectively overrules intellectual property protection, which typically are the reason for barriers to access, and instead protects the right to health by allowing countries to procure from a company other than the patent holder, at more affordable prices.

Despite this being a flexibility within the TRIPS Agreement, private companies discourage countries issuing these licenses as it reduces their control and profit margins. The threat of reduced trade, for example, can deter countries considering licensing options.

This action follows on from the Russian government issuing its first health-related compulsory license on a potential COVID-19 drug earlier this year.

“Taking the step to put this into law means that the Russian Federation has demonstrated a commitment to prioritise public health over the the interests private companies. Making this a legal right will be a powerful tool in negotiating prices; it will encourage generic manufactures to produce and supply; and it reduces bureaucracy at times when it is necessary for the country to act quickly to access treatment, vaccines and equipment,” says  Maria Shibaeva, Senior Legal Analyst at ITPCru.

“We hope other countries in the region will follow the same path and ensure access to essential treatment for everyone in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region. It could be of great benefit to countries where the process of issuing compulsory licensing by the government is not very clear, which is the case in Belarus for example, and in Kazakstan where so far, enacting a government use license seems almost impossible, and the country has to resort to a lengthy and cumbersome court procedure. People in all countries deserve the same chance of being able to access essential, often life-saving, treatment,” says Sergey Golovin, Make Medicines Affordable coordinator for EECA at ITPCru.

The next stage is for Parliament’s upper house to approve, and be signed by the President, both of which will hopefully happen within the next couple of months.