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Patents Improve Public Health: Progressive Economy Reviews TRIPS at 20 Years

November 21, 2013
Progressive Economy released a research paper examining the effect of TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) on global health. Here are their findings quoted from their press release:
"1. Since the TRIPS agreement went into effect on New Year’s Day 1995, research and development spending has risen significantly worldwide (relative to the size of GDP). For OECD members, the rise is from 2.1 percent to 2.4 percent of GDP, or in practice an additional $220 billion. Among major developing countries, R&D-to-GDP ratios have risen from 0.6 percent to 1.8 percent of GDP in China, 0.7 percent to 1.2 percent in Brazil, and 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent in South Africa and India."

"2. Despite fears that patent rules would make medicines harder to reach for poorer countries, the developing-country share of medicine consumption has risen from 11 percent to 28 percent of world consumption, low-income country life expectancy has risen by 8 years and major communicable disease burdens diminished.  As the World Health Organization observes in its World Health Statistics 2013, “[i]n absolute terms, the dramatic progress made in the bottom 25% of countries over two decades is clear, as is the narrowing of the gaps between the top and bottom categories.” The paper notes that relationships between development in general, improving health, and IP law are complex, causality is difficult to establish, and access to medicines is only one aspect of the larger challenge of providing high-quality health care to low-income countries; but that with all this taken into account, the trends are good."

"3. TRIPS’s exceptions and limits on IP rights, including provisions for waiver of patent rights in public health emergencies, remain appropriate. In most cases, however, the best approach is a cooperative one combining company efforts such as Patient Assistance Programs with greater effort by large developing-country governments to provide insurance during the period - typically an effective life of 12-15 years - in which medicines remain on patent."

The paper concludes:
"The twenty years since TRIPS’s conclusion have been an era of rising rates of research and invention in poor countries as well as rich. They have been years in which an increasingly varied set of inventions, creative artworks, and medicines have become available to a wider public; and most fundamentally, years in which the world’s poverty retreated and health improved. The agreement’s implementation has been at times a controversial matter, and sometimes subject to reasonable criticism. But it is working, and it deserves defense.”

The paper is available here