WIPO chief raises awareness of IP piracy in medical community


In a recent speech to the United Nations Correspondents' Association, the director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Kamil Idris, stressed the need to
raise awareness of the global problem of piracy and in particular the unlawful trade in counterfeit medicine.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the annual earnings from the sale of counterfeit and substandard medicines is $32 billion globally. The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that counterfeits make up more than 10% of the global medicines market and are present in both industrialized and developing countries, although it is estimated that up to 25% of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit or substandard.

Idris stated that WIPO is committed to persuading national governments to adopt legislation to combat all forms of piracy. The WHO also supports national governments seeking to increase regulation in this sector. It has identified poverty as a major factor in the production of substandard drugs as many drugs are simply too expensive for people in developing countries to buy, with the result that there is a constant market for counterfeit goods. The question of how to resolve the 'poverty factor' is difficult to answer, but the protection of IP rights can be part of the answer. In a study of the relationship between IP rights and foreign investment and imports, W Lesser concluded that:

"investors are very aware of [IP] systems in individual countries and act carefully within that context. Countries wishing to attract that group are advised to strengthen the [IP rights] systems accordingly."

As long as there is a market and an environment wherein enforcement of IP rights is not a priority for governments, piracy is going to be a serious issue. Idris was correct in commenting that governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations need to act together to combat piracy. However, WIPO needs to concentrate its efforts on convincing all these entities - particularly within developing countries - of the benefits to be gained from having a comprehensive and regulated IP rights system that benefits individuals as well as multinationals.

Carol Plunkett, Landwell, Dublin

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