TRIPS and the Right to Health
This chapter examines the impact of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) on the right to health, particularly the debate regarding the impact of global patent rules on the prices of essential medicines. It also addresses the arguments for and against patent regimes in the drug field. The TRIPS agreement has probably given rise to the most vociferous human rights criticisms of the WTO, especially with regard to its impact on the right to food and the right to health. It is possible that TRIPS in fact allows sufficient flexibility to permit States to comply with their obligations regarding the right to health, but it makes that task more difficult, particularly for poorer States. Furthermore, the traditional justifications for global patent protection are challengeable. The development rationale for global IP protection is highly suspect, especially given that Northern States did not respect such rights during their own paths to development. Specific concerns beyond high prices arise with regard to the pharmaceutical industry, such as an innovation deficit and queries about the real cost to the private sector of pharmaceutical R&D. Despite challenges to the desirability of global patent protection under TRIPS, explicit recognition of important TRIPS flexibilities in the Doha Declaration and the 2003 waiver, the trend in current regional and bilateral trade negotiations is, unfortunately, to drive up standards of IP protection. A rollback of TRIPS for many developing States (not only LDCs) would be a preferable policy trajectory.
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