"Patents are only worth the paper they're printed on unless governments protect them. So when Thailand browbeat Abbott Laboratories into dropping its prices for an HIV/AIDS drug last month by threatening to break its patent -- with nearly no international repercussions -- we were alarmed.This can't be good.
Now there's reason to be downright worried. On Friday Brazil declared it would seize the patent for Merck's HIV/AIDS drug, efavirenz. It's the first time Brazil has seized a patent, and it's a slap in the face of the World Trade Organization and the market system for drug innovation.
WTO rules allow countries to seize drug patents in times of 'national emergency' or for 'public non-commercial use.' But President Lula da Silva announced the patent expropriation on Friday after price negotiations broke down. Did Brazil's HIV/AIDS problem suddenly turn into an epidemic overnight, or did Lula just not like Merck's terms -- a 30% discount off the market price? Perhaps he was thinking, instead, of Brazil's huge generic drug industry, which could commercially benefit from a free invention and a big domestic market for selling it."
Monday, May 07, 2007
Wall Street Journal commentary ($$):