At issue is a provision of the WTO's Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property agreement, or TRIPS, and requires all of the signatories to adopt its measures, which includes enforcing patents. However, waivers were granted to the 1994 law that extended the deadline in different ways.
How so? A provision pertaining specifically to pharmaceuticals extended the deadline until 2016. But another waiver covering all TRIPS provisions expires on July 1. And so, Haiti has proposed extending the transition period for implementing all TRIPS rules until countries “graduate” from less-developed country status.
In other words, Haiti has asked for an indefinite extension. And patient advocates argue that if the request is denied, the price of essential medicines - notably, for AIDS, cancer and malaria - could rise dramatically in these countries, which already suffer from inadequate health systems.
"Failure to extend the transition period for least-developed countries to become fully compliant with (TRIPS) could seriously impede access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment and other essential medicines for people most in need," said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, also known as UNAIDS, and the United Nations Development Programme in a statement.
"Several big drug companies take this as a cue to either abandon enforcement of the patents in those countries, or to grant voluntary licences. If the World Trade Organization ends the extension, that might change," Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit advocacy group that focuses on intellectual property issues that affect access to medications and one of more than 300 groups to write the WTO in support of the extension, tells The Mail & Guardian (here is the letter).
The transition period would not exempt less-developed countries from applying TRIPS rules, but would give them flexibility in choosing whether or not to protect patents and other intellectual property. Not surprisingly, developed nations expressed some caution last week. The US, in fact, was decidedly ambiguous by noting its agreement with a previous extension and expressing a willingness to work with the WTO on the proposal.
The European Union, meanwhile, indicated a willingness to consider an extension beyond June 2013, but issued a statement saying "the most important concern the EU has with the proposal... is that it lacks both a clear and predictable perspective and it remains silent on how IP and the TRIPS Agreement could specifically help LDCs in building a viable technological base,” according to Intellectual Property Watch.
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