IP And Public Health, Biotech Rise As Issues In TPP Negotiations

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Intellectual property and the issues of biotechnology and public health are rising concerns for stakeholders to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement negotiations.

The 18th round of TPP negotiations took place from 15-25 July in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

In the latest round of negotiations, participating countries “reached agreement” on a wide range of technical issues surrounding market access, rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, investment, financial services, e-commerce, and transparency, according to a statement released 25 July by the Office of the USTR.

USTR said countries “found common ground on issues that allowed them to make progress in the negotiating groups covering intellectual property, competition, and environment,” and “agreed on next steps and an overall plan for achieving these market access outcomes.”

Froman and TPP ministers plan to “engage regularly” in the weeks prior to the next round of negotiations, to be held in Brunei from 22-30 August. It comes alongside the scheduled meeting of the economic ministers of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

No further details were available on the highly confidential negotiations. In general, members of industry have access to the negotiation details while nongovernmental groups and media do not.

BIO Calls for Strong IP

The US-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) issued a letter on 18 July and white paper to US Trade Representative Michael Froman, urging him to support strong intellectual property standards and protection throughout the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) region.

Countries negotiating the TPP include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, with Japan recently joining.

In its letter, BIO President and CEO James Greenwood stated, “A successful TPP Agreement will create an environment that promotes collaboration and innovation throughout the trans-Pacific region.”

Greenwood said that a “robust and forward-looking set of intellectual property (IP) standards shared by all TPP members” is a critical component of such an environment. He referred to BIO’s white paper for more detailed arguments to further support of the group’s request.

According to the white paper, “the realities of modern research and development” in the biotech industry are such that “each TPP member has the potential to participate in the discovery and development of new biological products, or new uses of existing products.”

BIO claims that this potential for “any TPP country to be the seed” of discovery, innovation and development necessitates a “certain and consistent” IP system across all TPP countries.

BIO also said that differences in IP infrastructure will impede collaboration, and for this reason a strong set of IP standards is “imperative”. The white paper underscores data, patent and trade secret protection to be of particular importance and relevance to biological products.

MSF Warns Against Overly Strong IP

On the other side of the debate, nongovernmental organisations and civil society members such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) have been vocal in their protest against strict and “damaging” IP provisions set forth by the US.

In an open letter [pdf] to TPP countries, MSF expressed its concern that these provisions pose “a direct threat to the future availability of affordable medicines for MSF’s patients and for millions of others around the Asia-Pacific region.”

Considering the potential for TPP to “become a global standard,” MSF encourages negotiating countries to “reject provisions that will harm access to medicines and ensure that the final text is aligned with relevant global public health commitments.”

A related 15 July MSF press release is available here.

Brittany Ngo is currently completing her Master’s in Health Policy and Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health and previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University. Through her studies she has developed an interest in health-related intellectual property issues. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch.


Brittany Ngo may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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