All this talk about access to medicines brings up the question, who regulates this stuff? Who decides that patents are 20 years long? And who decides that data exclusivity is (usually) around 5-10?
The answer is that it’s largely controlled by the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, conveniently shortened to TRIPS. The agreement is pretty extensive but the gist of it is, patents last 20 years and governments can set the conditions around what qualifies for a patent themselves. MSF sums up that aspect nicely:
“Countries should therefore determine what kind of inventions deserves patents in the area of pharmaceuticals, in light of their own social and economic conditions. Some governments, such as Brazil, Thailand or India, have done precisely that. In today’s world, for many patients, that decision can be a question of life or death. ”
Data exclusivity? Vaguely referred to as “data protection” against “unfair commercial use” with no specific time frame. That’s left a lot of room for negotiation and debate.
The quote from MSF’s Access Campaign and the rest of their TRIPS briefing can be found here