There's a new IP sheriff in town

Another day, another Washington think tank pushing Big Pharma propaganda.


Andrew Leonard
April 4, 2006 11:04PM (UTC)

You've got to give Michael Ryan, director of the new Washington think tank the Creative and Innovative Economy Center, full credit for honesty. "I'm very pro-multinational companies," he told IP-Watch in an interview published last Friday. "You can't ultimately be pro-business in local economies if youre not pro-multinational companies."

As described by IP-Watch, Ryan's center is "dedicated to promoting acceptance of developed country industry practices in developing countries." But what that means, specifically, appears to be the recommendation that developing countries adopt intellectual property regimens that mimic the status quo in the United States.

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So it's not too surprising that a who's who of Big Pharma is listed as corporate backers of CIEC, including Abbott, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, and Wyeth. Nor is it surprising that the first report released by CIEC is a study, authored by Ryan, of how a new emphasis on "strengthening patent and intellectual property rights" in Brazil has led to the development of a thriving "bio-medical innovation system" in that country.

Wait a minute -- actually, that is kind of surprising. Because as noted here before, Brazil is Public Enemy No. 1 for Big Pharma. According to Defenders of Property Rights, Brazil is "the number one abuser of IP rights in the Western Hemisphere." Brazil is a leader in encouraging domestic companies to provide generic versions of drugs at low cost to its own population. Just last year, Brazil threatened to break Abbott's patents on an HIV drug, Kaletra, ultimately forcing Abbott to substantially lower its prices. Brazil is also a leader in the campaign by several developing nations to address the problem of biopiracy -- the exploitation, without proper compensation, of genetic material and indigenous knowledge by foreign multinational corporations. Last week, Brazil's minister of the environment, Marina Silva, kicked off the 8th biannual Conference of Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity by calling for legislation against biopiracy (although any substantive measures were blocked at the conference by Australia, New Zealand and Canada).

Brazil is a serious force to be reckoned with in the global struggle over intellectual property rights. But Ryan's 30-page report contains not a single word about Brazil's very public stance on these issues. Despite numerous citations of academic literature that purportedly proves that only the United States has implemented the correct regulatory regimen on intellectual property, there is not a single reference to Brazil's direct confrontations with Big Pharma. It seems, I don't know, somehow incomplete.

The report does conclude with a pious prediction that perhaps Brazil's new "bio-medical innovation system" will address the "10/90 health research gap" -- the problem "that 10 percent of world health research expenditures are devoted to the prevention and treatment of illness and diseases particular to the developing world." Whether a market-based system, absent serious government intervention, will ever address the needs of desperately poor people is open to serious question. But regardless of where one comes down on that issue, one would think that a discussion of it would be a good place to at least mention that Brazil's strong-arm negotiations with Big Pharma have helped it comprehensively provide anti-HIV drugs for free to its own population.

Unless, of course, your mandate is to serve the interests of multinational drug companies. In which case, all is understood.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Brazil Globalization How The World Works Intellectual Property Latin America

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