TRIPS and Healthcare: Rethinking the Debate
IPN Opinion article
(Summary) All members of the World Trade Organisation are bound by TRIPS, which creates minimum standards for
patents, copyright and other forms of intellectual property. Crucially, TRIPS requires that by 1 January
2006 all countries must have in place systems for patenting products, including pharmaceutical products.
Whilst government officials in poor countries may be under pressure to delay implementation of TRIPS,
they should be aware that the short-term advantages of such a decision (cheaper products especially
pharmaceuticals) come at a long-term cost. In particular their countries are likely to experience lower
levels of foreign investment, slower technology transfer, less local investment in research and
development and delays in the development of drugs for the diseases that most adversely affect their
Poor countries will not eradicate diseases by compulsory licensing certain pharmaceuticals. In fact the
opposite is more likely because of the negative signal that such a decision would send to companies
contemplating investment in knowledge-based industries. It would be a tragedy if long-term economic
development and consequent improvements in the health of the poor were to be undermined by shortsighted
policies aimed at placating narrow vested interests.