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January 24, 2014

Weakening South Africa's IP regime would be devastating

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No other area of innovation is more critical to protect than medical technology and pharmaceuticals, especially if you’re a country with an AIDS crisis. With the highest number of AIDS patients than any other world nation (5.6 million), South Africa should advance an IP agenda that both bolsters access to medicines as well as protects innovation. 

But recently, the government released a draft of a new national IP policy that those in the industry are concerned will weaken the IP regime in South Africa and undermine well-established IP rights found elsewhere in the developed world.

And when the pharmaceutical industry, which has taken measures to ensure low-income patients have access to treatments, responded with its concerns and a plan to push back against the weakening of the IP regime, South African health minister Aaron Matsoaledi demogogued in response that multinational drug companies were conspiring “genocide.”

Colorado College’s Dr. Kristina Lybecker gets it right, writing:

“Unfortunately the South African Health Minister chose to fan the flames of panic with his incendiary remarks rather than begin a genuine dialog on what should be the dual objectives of the new policy:  enhancing access while ensuring that the incentives to innovate and invest in therapeutic breakthroughs remain strong.”

Furthermore, IPI’s Merrill Matthews makes the case against those who claim that strong intellectual property laws hurt the poor in “Answering Critics of Pharmaceutical Patents”:  

"If this assertion were true, then those countries with the strongest intellectual property laws would have the poorest populations and vice versa. Of course, just the opposite is true. Those countries with the strongest IP protections are by far the most prosperous economies. Why? Creators create because their investment and efforts are protected. And those efforts create jobs that grow the economy.

"Economic growth occurs where property, both real and intellectual, is protected. Would major companies set up shop in countries where people were allowed to walk into the business and take whatever they wanted, just because they said they needed it? Yet that is exactly what is happening with regard to intellectual property in many third world countries."

So Mr. Matsoaledi, it would actually be the weakening of the South African IP regime, not vice versa, that would block access to critical medicines and slow or even stop R&D. And it would be a devastating blow to those in your country suffering in the AIDS epidemic.   


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