NGOs Call Out Switzerland For Pressuring Colombia On Compulsory Licences; Switzerland Replies 24/08/2015 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Civil society groups are calling on the Swiss government to refrain from putting pressure on developing countries wishing to manufacture generic medicines without the consent of the patent holder. The groups allege that the Swiss government tried to unduly influence Colombia to not take such a step, though it is permitted by international trade rules. The Swiss government, for its part, says it participated in a public consultation in Colombia and merely underlined that negotiations between governments and original manufacturers are a better way to go than a compulsory licence. According to an 18 August open letter [pdf] addressed to three Swiss federal councillors, the Swiss government attempted to dissuade the government of Colombia from granting a compulsory licence for imatinib (marketed as Glivec), a cancer drug for which the Swiss company Novartis has a patent. Compulsory licences are among the flexibilities granted to developing countries as a way to address negative effects that could be incurred by the strict implementation of the 1994 World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). A compulsory licence would be expected to lower the price of imatinib for patients in Colombia, as the drug could be manufactured by a generic pharmaceutical company. The generic company would have to pay lower royalties to the originator company under the licence. The letter is signed by nearly 20 national and international organisations from Colombia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. According to the open letter, the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection is considering whether access to imatinib is of public interest, which the letter says could be a step toward a compulsory licence. The groups say that in a letter of 26 May [pdf], the Swiss government gave misleading and unfounded statements to the Colombian government about issuing a compulsory licence, and disregards the public health of the Colombian people. The groups challenged the Swiss assertion that a compulsory licence is “tantamount to expropriation” that harms future research and development. They also argued against the assertion that it is a “policy tool of last resort,” stating that it is rather a legal option for governments to choose if they see fit. Switzerland’s Reply Meanwhile, Switzerland this week offered an explanation of its position. “Switzerland has maintained a longstanding open and constructive dialogue with Colombia on all matters of common interest,” Antje Baertschi, head of Communications at the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER, State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), told Intellectual Property Watch. “In that context, SECO took part in the public consultation in Colombia. In taking part in the consultation, SECO wanted to convey the message that the results sought by (imposing) a compulsory licence can often be obtained by other means. Switzerland generally favours negotiations between the governments of the countries concerned and the original manufacturer with regard to prices and licencing rights with the original manufacturer,” she said. “It is usual for the Swiss authorities to participate in public consultations. They do so autonomously to defend important policies,” she added. The median annual cost of Glivec per patient charged by Novartis in Colombia is about US$20,000, the open letter said, while the gross national income per capita was US$12,600 in 2014. A compulsory licence could bring the price down some 70 percent, the groups said. “Switzerland respects its international commitments. She pursues a comprehensive set of policies to protect intellectual property which is vital for research and is also in the interest of patients,” Baertschi said. “Economic relations with Colombia are good. Bilateral trade is worth over CHF 1 billion francs (2014) and investment amounts to CHF 1.3 billion, Swiss firms employ 16,700 people in the country. Furthermore, Colombia is a priority country in Switzerland’s economic cooperation strategy (annual programme: approx. CHF 15 m),” she said in an email. Image Credits: – Flickr – European Patent Office Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."NGOs Call Out Switzerland For Pressuring Colombia On Compulsory Licences; Switzerland Replies" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.