October 9th 2013: Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) congratulate the Brazilian government on taking bold steps to promote access to affordable medicines, and welcome new levels of cooperation between BRICS government counterparts to reform national patent laws in South Africa and Brazil.
Like South Africa, Brazil is currently amending its patent laws in order to benefit its people.
Today at the Brazilian House of Representatives a parliamentary committee report will be tabled, entitled Brazil’s Patent Reform: innovation towards national competitiveness. South African Chief Director of Policy and Legislation at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Macdonald Netshitenzhe, will attend – offering the DTI an excellent opportunity to learn about certain practices already being implemented in Brazil with promising results, and discuss what legal provisions may be absent in both countries, but necessary to enact going forward.
“This is very timely, as the South Africa’s public comment period to provide input on the domestic Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property, 2013, closes next week. As government representatives from several countries congregate in Brasilia, South Africa can take advantage of the discussions to inform its own national process of intellectual property policy reform,” says Julia Hill, Access Advocacy Officer for MSF South Africa.
In Brazil, the report released today should encourage members of Parliament to support proposed national legislation (Bill no. H.R. 5402/2013), which would strengthen the intellectual property system to better work with public health interests in mind. For South Africa, amendments to the country’s intellectual property laws will only start after the finalization of a policy framework.
One recommendation in the Brazilian report is to affirm and support the powers of an independent government body, the National Sanitary Agency (ANVISA), to veto pharmaceutical patent applications if the product does not meet standards of innovation defined in national patentability criteria. ANVISA’s “prior consent” for patent approval is in addition to examination of applications by the Patents Office. “Prior consent” is based on the understanding that pharmaceutical companies may attempt to file multiple undeserved patents on the same medicine over a period of time, in order to extend their monopoly—a practice that can keep medicine prices high and limit greater access to treatment for ordinary people.
By contrast, South Africa has no patent examination system in place, leaving the country vulnerable to abusive patenting practices by pharmaceutical companies, and inflated medicine prices as a result. Brazil, for example, granted only 273 pharmaceutical patents during a five-year period (2003-2008), while South Africa granted 2,442 pharmaceutical patents in 2008 alone.
The DTI is accepting submissions on the South African Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property, 2013 through next Thursday, October 17th.
MSF, TAC and SECTION27 will be handing in their joint submission on this due date, at the DTI campus in Pretoria. The organizations will be accepting endorsements on the submission from other South African associations. International organisations or experts can endorse an open letter on the South African reform process until Monday, October 14th—please contact for further details.
Brazilian civil society organizations also plan to make a submission to the DTI, supporting the draft policy’s recommendations for a patent examination system in South Africa, among other reforms. MSF and the TAC encourage on-going BRICS cooperation in advancing patent law reform processes that seek to promote public health.