Wednesday, October 11, 2006

WTO - Update on Article 31bis

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has just updated its information on intellectual property and public health to provide more information on the 2005 decision to amend the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

WTO members approved an amendment to TRIPS, 6 December 2005, putting in place the 2003 decision on patents and public health, sometimes referred to as the waiver on public health. The 2003 decision aimed to facilitate access of developing countries to cheaper generic medicines, particularly in circumstances where the country lacks the infrastructure to produce the medicines itself under a compulsory licence. However, it has been criticised as too administratively complex and burdensome to be a truly effective means to remove obstacles to access.

The new provision, Article 31bis, will be formally in force when a minimum of 2/3 of WTO members ratify the change. The deadline of 1 December 2007 has been set in order to achieve this, until which time the waiver continues to be in force.

The WTO has set up a page recording countries that have accepted the amendment. To date, only 2% of countries have ratified the change (3 countries out of a possible 149). These are the United States (a matter of days after 6 December), Switzerland, and El Salvador (both in September this year).

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