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USA-Morocco deal may extend drug patents to 30 years


6 December 2003

Medicine and health policy

USA-Morocco deal may extend drug patents to 30 years

A free trade agreement due to be signed between Morocco and the USA by
the end of this year could threaten access to medicines, several non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) warned last week.

In separate statements, Morocco’s Association de Lutte contre le SIDA
(ALCS) and Act Up Paris accused the USA of aggressively pursuing a
bilateral free trade agreement with Morocco to extend provisions
required by World Trade Organization (WTO). The agreement could increase
the duration of patent protection from its current 20 years to nearly
30 years.

ALCS said countries that have already signed free trade agreements
with the USA have been forced to renounce some of their rights to use
generic drugs. But, according to ALCS, the USA-Morocco draft agreement
has infinitely "more constraining provisions" than those signed by other
countries. "If these provisions are ratified . . . [it] will be a
serious precedent for which the countries of the south will blame
Morocco, but these countries will continue to battle for access to
generic medicines", ALCS pointed out.

"The USA does not seem satisfied with the agreements made at an
international level and they are trying to push through bilateral and
regional agreements with stricter standards on intellectual property
than those agreed in the WTO", Sabina Voogd, Nethelands Ministry of
Foreign Affairs Policy Coherence Unit, told The Lancet. WTO acknowledges
that the TRIPS agreement should not stop countries taking measures to
protect public health.

One of the provisions in the proposed draft is to make up for delays
in the patent office. "But these extensions have nothing to do with
creating better inventions", comments Michael Davis (Cleveland State
University College of Law, Ohio, USA).

"The problem is that the only type of patents to benefit from the
extension are medical ones. It is not clear why an aeronautical patent,
for instance, should not get a similar extension", he says.

Moreover, according to Davis, the extra 3 years or so for finding new
uses of intellectual property is a perversion of patent law. He said: "A
new use is entitled to its own patent if it is inventive. If it is not
inventive, it is simply a violation of patent principles to extend the
patent for a non-inventive advance."

The generic industry employs thousands of people in Morocco and helps
to save the Health Ministry millions of dirhams per year. But Gaëlle
Krikorian of Act Up Paris complains that generic manufacturers are being
excluded from the negotiations, which threaten to destroy the domestic
generic industry.

Khabir Ahmad