After months of negotiation, the public has spoken. Public health outcry surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) resounds online, in print and on television.

“We have raised our voice as loudly as we can,” said Manica Balasegaram, executive director of Doctors Without Borders’ (DWB) access campaign. “This is a terrible deal for access to affordable medicines.”

The idea behind campaigns like the one headed by DWB is to remove the intellectual property laws (many pertaining to pharmaceuticals that treat life-threatening conditions) from the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP).

As it stands, according to a November 13 Wikileak, the TPP would seek to extend the patent on brand-name pharmaceuticals an additional five years (delaying the onset of cheaper generic drugs that compete with brand-names), as well as 12 years of “data exclusivity” for biologic drugs, of which include many cancer and multiple sclerosis therapies.

While these intellectual property rights are sure-fire ways to keep pharmaceutical prices high—even unreachable for many in developing countries—defenders of the TPP laud them as ways to improve health, not hamper it.

The first line of the secret TPP document that was leaked by Julian Assange in 2013 decries that the thought process behind these intellectual property laws is to “enhance the role of intellectual property in promoting economic and social development in relation to the new digital economy, technological innovation, and transfer the dissemination of technology and trade.”

As increases in antibiotic resistance demands more innovation in pharmaceuticals, they remove incentives for Big Pharma to pursue antibiotic options (data shows that the more times you use these antibiotics, the less effective they are, so profits are capped).

Beneath this intellectual property clause that is a roadblock to doctors and patients everywhere, lies a real problem–how can we incentivize further development of life-saving antibiotic therapies?

The best way our society knows how to incentivize something is to monetize it. The idea of writing hours of code at a computer was abhorrent, for many, until Bill Gates and Steve Jobs turned personal computers into million-dollar industries.

The intellectual property laws surrounding pharmaceuticals (especially, antibiotics) exist to serve this purpose—to create an industry that is robust, profitable and differentiated.

It is even present in the existing TRIPS free trade agreement which guarantees some intellectual property laws in free trade agreements, even providing special waivers to certain developing countries that exempt them having to abide by pharmaceutical patents until at least January 2016.

“The LDC waivers [exemption from TRIPS-sponsored patent law for drugs] are among the important flexibilities available in the TRIPs agreement,” wrote a UNAID 2012 report.

“Retaining the flexibility to adapt intellectual property law and policy to meet national development objected has facilitated the development of robust generic industries such as India and Brazil. Generic competition, primarily from Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers, has been one of the key factors in the dramatic decrease in prices of…medicines for HIV treatment.”

If the TPP must go through, which according to some reports will happen before the dawn of the 2016 election year, the TRIP waiver program has already given us the skeleton of a tool to combat it.

If intellectual property rights for biologic therapies and drugs in the US are to be tightened, the extension of the waivers for generic development elsewhere may be necessary.

Diversify the market–let the developing nations step in with their own budding pharmaceutical industries and mollify the situation that the TPP has the power to create.

Emma Betuel

Sources: UNITAID, UNAIDS, About News, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), WikiLeaks, Health Affairs, Center for American Progress
Photo: Pixabay

U.S. Congress could soon pass legislation to fast-track the embattled Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), the Guardian reported Monday, a deal which has divided the Democratic party in the final months of Obama’s two-term presidency. One divisive factor of the controversial deal stems from language used in its chapter on Intellectual Property (IP), which some believe would curb internet freedom by restricting users’ access to copyrighted materials, while increasing penalties for doing so.

Internet freedom advocates argue that the changes made to intellectual property enforcement internationally will inhibit participating countries from enforcing their own, oftentimes shorter copyright terms, while additionally placing further controls upon the fair use exception to copyright law, which The Intercept explained allows individuals to “repurpose copyrighted material to make art or music.”

Negotiations of President Obama’s trademark, albeit controversial deal have been infamously secret, which is one reason prominent political figures from within the President’s own party have voiced their opposition.

On her website, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) hosts a petition to bring TPP brokerages out from behind closed doors where entities other than corporate lobbyists could access the deal that will affect international environmental policy, labor standards and regulations, as well as intellectual property standards and enforcement.

Pleas for transparency by Warren and her contemporaries were finally quelled by a May 14 Senate vote, which advanced a bill that would grant Obama, and future presidents, sole authority to negotiate the terms of the TPP, Bloomberg reported.

The TPP unites 12 countries with a combined 40 percent of the world’s economy, including some major economic players like Japan, South Korea and Canada, as well as developing countries such as Vietnam and Brunei.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit which advocates for freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet, secured a draft of the TPP chapter on intellectual property containing language that would limit users’ “freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.”

Each participating nation will be forced to adopt the TPP’s standards for intellectual property online, which the EFF says goes beyond current U.S. law and lengthens the time an individual or corporation maintains ownership of copyrighted material.

It would also punish alleged copyright infringers by kicking them offline without due process through the termination of their ISP contract. Additional, harsher criminal sanctions, such as jail time without so much as a formal complaint from the copyright holder beforehand, are also a possibility under TPP parameters, the EFF reports.

The EFF also said TPP’s stance on trade secrets–forged as a “tactic to address cyber-espionage on the global stage,”–is nebulous on what exactly constitutes a trade secret, and also lacks any safeguards for journalists or whistleblowers who access information “without criminal or commercial intent.”

The inevitable result, EFF asserts, will be a chilling effect on free and uninhibited expression, which Harvard economist Amartya Sen argues is both the means and the end to development in underdeveloped countries.

Without transparency during the negotiation process, it is difficult to say exactly how restrictive TPP’s IP controls will be. But as of late last month, Sputnik International found that more than 2,354 websites and tech companies had called on users to contact their congresspersons in opposition to the TPP.

– Amanda Burke

Sources: The Guardian, EFF, First Look, Bloomberg, Sputnik News
Photo: Flickr