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Ecuador overrides 2,000 pharma patents

The President of Ecuador has announced a presidential decree overriding a significant number of pharmaceutical patents

President Correa of Ecuador has announced a presidential decree overriding a significant number of pharmaceutical patents in a move to promote local production of medicines. 

The Ecuadorian government has said that it wishes to promote local production of medicines to avoid "the huge profits of trans-nationals", based on an industrial and intellectual property system which Correa defines as "neo-liberal".

In a statement, President Rafael Correa said that access to medicine is a "human right" and that he intended to seek "compulsory licenses" to acquire medications considered "indispensable".

Under current World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, countries have the right to seek "compulsory licenses" that override traditional patent rights. Current WTO rules require that such countries negotiate with the patent owners to determine fair compensation.

"All those pharmaceutical products we can produce and copy, we will elaborate in Ecuador", said Correa.

The action by President Correa is in line with recent statements that the government would not honour the illegitimate debt that had been placed on the country by foreign banks (under previous administrations). It reflects disquiet in some quarters about the pricing levels imposed by pharmaceutical companies in poorer countries, such as Ecuador, while drugs are patent protected.

PMLiVE asked Paul Chapman, European Patent Attorney, partner in Kilburn & Strode LLP and member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys' (CIPA) Biotechnology Committee how might the Ecuadorian situation be resolved? "I would expect," said Mr Chapman, "the pharma companies to engage in negotiation as per the terms of TRIPs, since compulsory licences cannot generally be granted unless there has been an attempt to obtain a licence from the patent proprietor on "reasonable" terms. The ultimate sanction would presumably be to report Ecuador to the WTO for a breach of the rules should they go ahead."  

Mr Chapman added: "The Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) provisions, which form part of the WTO rules, allow for the grant of compulsory licences under certain circumstances. These are quite specific and only envisage grant of such a licence under very limited circumstances. Medicine prices in Europe, for example, are usually determined through local mechanisms involving Governmental agencies and as such it is difficult to see how any application for a compulsory licence would be successful in Europe."

26th October 2009


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