Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brazil's disrespect for IP law

Brazilian Health Minister Humberto Costa says that Brazil's growing HIV/AIDS population needs anti-retroviral drugs. But he doesn't think they, or the Brazilian government, should have to pay for them.

Minister Costa announced recently that Abbott Laboratories of Chicago, maker of the anti-retroviral drug Kaletra, has until the end of the week to offer an acceptable price for it. Otherwise he will order a Brazilian state-run laboratory to begin making a generic version of the drug.

No matter what Costa says, this is patently illegal. It violates the WTO's TRIPs (trade-related intellectual property rights) agreement. Of course, Costa doesn't quite see it that way. He believes he has found a loophole which permits this practice.

Dr. Roger Bate, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writing on Tech Central Station, thinks this practice "appears to be legal". I disagree. The loophole Costa is using to justify this theft is one which allows developing nations to suspend IP protections in times of health emergencies. An admirable clause indeed, since it allows the world's poorest quick access to life-saving medicines.

However, I think this clause doesn't apply to Brazil in this case for two reasons. First of all, it is a stretch to call Brazil, with the world's eighth-largest economy (larger than Canada, Spain, Australia, or Russia), a "developing" nation.

Second, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Brazil has hardly reached the stage where it can be called a health emergency. According to the Population Research Bureau, 0.1 % of the population between ages 15-40 is infected with HIV. Brazil doesn't even rank in the top 15 countries outside Africa in terms of the spread of HIV.

What Minister Costa is proposing is out-and-out theft. It's too bad such an educated person as Dr. Bate can't see that.

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