1. Law and policy reform

We advocate for change in laws and policies to protect access to medicines and public health.

Laws and policies relating to intellectual property (IP) can positively or negatively affect access to medicines, depending on how they are shaped and implemented.

The TRIPS Agreement introduced a requirement, back in 1995, for member countries of the World Trade Organization to provide patent protection on pharmaceuticals for a minimum term of 20 years (excluding ‘least developed countries’ until 2033).

Also written into the agreement is the right for countries to protect public health, and amend IP protections as necessary, known as ‘flexibilities’.

In reality the flexibilities are little-used. While there have been some notable successes, many countries offer IP protection that far exceeds what is required by TRIPS. 

The reasons for this include: a lack of supportive legal frameworks; resource constraints; limited technical expertise and coordination between ministries of trade and health; and pressure from richer countries.

The consequence is the prices of medicines are much higher than necessary, forcing many countries to ration.

What we do

We advocate for the full inclusion and use of the TRIPS flexibilities under national laws to protect public health. 

We aim to help governments:

  • Incorporate the TRIPS flexibilities fully into domestic law.
    This includes the use of compulsory or ‘government use’ licensing.
  • Improve patentability criteria for medicines, and incorporate additional exceptions to patent rights into law.
  • Develop and use unfair competition laws to curb anti-competitive IP practices, that block access to medicines.
  • Sensitize the judiciary to the implications for health and human rights regarding decisions made in the area of IP.
  • Make use of ‘parallel importation’, allowing imports of patented medicines from other countries where these are cheaper. 
  • Reject TRIPS-Plus measures within Free Trade Agreements which undermine access to medicines.

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