As usual, Indonesia is foremost on my mind these days. From the Intellectual Property Watch blog, this post by Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen provides an interesting analysis of the current impasse on virus sharing. Apparently, Indonesia may have a sovereign right to viruses circulating in the country, since the Convention on Biological Diversity (to which Indonesia is a party) protects countries' ownership of genetic material. They may have a sovereign right to it -- this hasn't exactly been tested. I've heard someone at the World Bank suggest the same thing. I'm no expert on intellectual property, so I'll let the IP-Watch post speak for itself:
Indonesian Avian Flu Stance Reveals Potential Weakness in Global System
The Indonesian government’s reluctance to share avian influenza virus samples to help develop a global vaccine for humans has revealed a weakness in the international flu research system related to developing countries’ concern with the impact of intellectual property rights on public health.
Developing countries are concerned that if they supply avian influenza virus samples for free to the international health community under the World Health Organization (WHO) system, the samples will be used to develop patented vaccines targeted to wealthy countries and too expensive for developing countries to purchase. The market for traditional influenza vaccines has been in industrialised countries, so it has been a “north-north process,” a WHO official told Intellectual Property Watch.
“We are very worried,” an Indonesian official told Intellectual Property Watch, adding that there is an “unfair mechanism” regarding the sharing of samples of viruses. Some manufacturers will use the samples to develop vaccines, but there is no guarantee that poor developing countries such as Indonesia would be provided with the vaccine, as manufacturers’ production capacity is only 40 million, he said, referring to the more than 6 billion people in the world. There is a “high gap in demand and supply,” he said.
Indonesia is the hardest-hit country in terms of human deaths from avian influenza, according to the WHO, which said there has been a total of 277 cases of avian flu in human beings worldwide.
The sharing of virus strains links into another current IP policy issue. The virus samples taken from people affected by H5N1, the most common avian flu virus, also may be considered genetic material to which, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), countries have a sovereign right. If others want to use the genetic material to develop a medicine, for example, they would have to ask permission, disclose the source of the material, and share the possible benefit of the outcome with the owners of the genetic material.
But as the CBD is soft law and not legally binding, a number of developing countries are pushing to amend the legally binding World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to include this requirement in patent applications. The relationship between the CBD and TRIPS is one of the most important issues for developing countries in the current round of trade liberalisation negotiations at the WTO, referred to as the Doha Round.
continue reading this post at Intellectual Property Watch....