Health and Intellectual Property Rights
(2001; 1 page)


A new and comprehensive treaty on intellectual property rights was established in 1994, within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is called the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights —the TRIPS agreement for short. It requires all WTO member countries to adopt in their laws minimum standards of protection for patents, trademarks, copyrights and other intellectual property rights. It has substantially limited the freedom that countries enjoyed until then to design and implement their own intellectual property systems.

The agreement established a common set of standards for all countries, without differentiating on the basis of socioeconomic and technological development. Developing countries, however, were allowed a transition period in which they could delay implementation of the new standards for specified amounts of time.

Although it has many implications for public health, the TRIPS agreement was negotiated with little or no participation from public health authorities. The obligations it sets forth to protect inventions include the following: recognizing patents for pharmaceuticals without distinction between imported and locally produced products; granting patent protection for at least 20 years from the date of application; limiting the scope of exemptions from patent rights; and effectively enforcing patent rights through administrative and judicial mechanisms.

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