WHO told to ponder patents, counterfeits and international trade

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World trade organization European union International trade

Shipments of drugs that do not violate patent rights in the exporting or importing countries should not be seized in transit or labeled as counterfeit, as occurred recently, according to health advocates.

The issues were raised in letters to the heads of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), following seizures at Dutch ports in recent months.

Four shipments from India destined to South America were impounded at a Dutch port on the basis that they were alleged to be counterfeit and broke intellectual property laws.

The letters report that one of these seizures, which impounded losartan active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) destined for Brazil, was performed in connection with a complaint by Merck.

In addition the letters allege that following the seizure of clopidogrel bilsulphate API shipments to Colombia, Sanofi-Aventis requested the goods be destroyed.

The seizures were conducted because the products infringe on patent rights in the European Union. However, the drugs and APIs, manufactured by companies including Dr Reddy’s, do not violate patent rights in the importing or exporting countries.

According to the letters’ authors, which includes Oxfam, legal traditions exempt goods in transit from normal restrictions associated with patents when the product is legitimate in the destination market.

By breaking with this tradition the letters’ authors believe the Dutch are in conflict with a WHO resolution that states: “international negotiations on issues related to intellectual property rights and health should be coherent in their approaches to the promotion of public health​.”

This is intended to facilitate the flow of affordable medicines, which if disrupted would impact on the work done by the WHO, UNAIDS and other developmental bodies in developing countries.

A copy of the letter to the WHO can be found here​.

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