Oxfam Takes Pharma Patents to Task

Jun 01, 2002

International trade rules play a large role in creating world poverty, according to Oxfam, an international confederation of organizations committed to end poverty. In a recent report, "Rigged Rules and Double Standards," the group accuses rich nations of robbing poor nations of $100 billion a year by abusing trade rules. It also criticizes pharma for enforcing its patents in poor countries.

One of the major culprits named is the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its rules on intellectual property. The report is particularly scathing in its assessment of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs), which aims to ensure that patents are stringently enforced.

Oxfam claims that compliance with TRIPs could cost developing countries $40 billion in increased license payments, half of it to the United States. It calls TRIPs "an act of institutionalized fraud, sanctioned by WTO rules."

The report calls for an end to the universal application of the WTO intellectual property blueprint. It says developing countries should be allowed to maintain more flexible systems of intellectual property protection, such as a restriction of the geographical coverage of patents or greater flexibility in the period of patent protection, with developing countries able to allow periods of 10 years or less, depending on their levels of development and health status. It also calls for a clear commitment to put public health priorities before patent holders' claims, building on the commitments made at the WTO's Doha conference last November.