Protection of intellectual property rights aims to promote innovation by providing an incentive to invest in research and development. Yet the TRIPS Agreement, which seeks to fulfil this aim, has proven to be one of the most controversial WTO agreements. At least four questions are commonly raised from a public health perspective (Box 4). In view of the impact that the TRIPS Agreement could have on pharmaceuticals, WHO (in accord with World Health Assembly resolution WHA52.19) is using these four questions to monitor and analyse the effects of globalization and trade agreements on the pharmaceutical sector.
Concurrently, having been awarded observer status on an ad hoc basis by the WTO Council for TRIPS, WHO is able to monitor all relevant issues under discussion at WTO that may have implications for the health sector.
Box 4. Key questions for monitoring the public health impact of TRIPS
1. Are newer essential drugs more expensive than they would have been if not under patent?
2. Is the introduction of generic drugs being slowed?
3. Are more new drugs for neglected diseases being developed?
4. Are transfer of technology and direct foreign investment in developing countries increasing or decreasing?