Interview with Ron Merchant, UK Patent Office, Ellen t'Hoen, MSF
Director: T. Jayashree
Duration: 00:38:49; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 10.156; Saturation: 0.075; Lightness: 0.433; Volume: 0.246; Cuts per Minute: 0.695; Words per Minute: 101.920
Summary: Tracing the story of the global struggle to make HIV/AIDS drugs more affordable and available, A Human Question raises key questions of whether private ownership of knowledge can be at the costs of human life?
patents and access to medicine
Ok fine! my name is Ron Marchant. I am the head of the patent office in UK. And we are her in Geneva for a meeting to discuss WIPO in development, an important subject which started last year, where many developing countries were worried, that the IP system globally does not take into account of their special needs. So this week we are here to try and thrash out the issues and come to some agreement on our way forward.
Ron Merchant introduces himself as the head of the patent office in UK and talks about why he was in Geneva.
I think its important that there is a good interface between the civil society and WIPO because the important thing to remember is that the IP system is not just about the advantage of companies; its about how; its about how the system is used to make societies grow. And of course we need the voices not only the rights of these. They are very important. And we also need the voices of the society; and many of the NGO'S can come here and give their perspective. And I also think it is important to remember that the delegates of the countries are also mindful of the needs of the society because each of us, who work for our government. and our government., wants to take a balanced view of IP. But today I think its being controversial, the extent to which NGO's should be involved. I think we are moving on to a new platform where there is a grate of willingness to cooperate. In our case for IP in a much more constructive fashion. So I am positive and hopeful.
Talks about the importance of the relationship between civil society and WIPO.
I think the concerns were addressed when TRIPS was discussed but not as clearly as they are today. If you look at the TRIPS agreement; it allows flexibility it does say that we should have global IP. And let's remember we are not just talking about pats and copyrights and the creativity of many cultures is actually an important issue for their economies. But what we know now is the way the world has changed is no longer how much access to resources and labor have you gone, its how clever you are. And close cleverness is more evidently spread around the world than resources. So the patent system or the copyright system is much moor accessible and usable by culture that traditionally were not seen as industrial and also it's more important to see that the countries now want to see ...1. That they can make maximum benefit from the system for their good as well as opening their markets and their culture to inward investment from the already developed countries. So, I think it's the globalization plus the factor that we call the knowledge economy now that is actually to ensure that ' yes everybody has access to knowledge and yes there is an incentive and reward for real innovation for the benefit of mankind and yes that benefit can be shared.' So I think that is what is changing so there is scope for freeway. I don't think that the IP system does have to shut down the sharing of knowledge but its very much about how it does the process, take account of the technological changes that have taken place; particularly the internet. They were only beginning to fully think about what it means in terms of the reward for the creator, the reward for the carrier of the information and so on. And public access... I mean quite clearly there is a public interest in the access to information. In the same way there is an interest in developing successful industries so the people are employed and have high living standards. And it is that balance that we have really got to work on. And that's what we are really starting here I think... This week and in the future.
The IP system does allow for space. There is a balance between the reward for the investment when you take something to the market and the pure sharing of knowledge. Now, it is the case where we do not have to look at whether the IP system really supports that well enough because the IP system has grown against the background of one set of technologies. The technologies have now changed and we do have to ask again ' well are we now meeting the objectives what we had with the system.' Because the important thing is not the details of the current process but what is it we are trying to change that may be necessary to endure that 'yes everybody has access to knowledge and yes there is an incentive and reward for real innovation to the benefit of mankind and yes that benefit can be shared.' So I think that is what is changing there is stills scope for freeway I don't think that the IP system does have to shut down the sharing of knowledge but it is very much about how it does the process, now take account of the technological changes that have taken place: particularly the internet. They were only beginning to fully think about what that means in terms of the reward for the creator the reward for the carrier of the information and so on. And public access ... I mean quite clearly there is a public interest in the access to information. In the same way there is an interest in developing successful industries so the people are employed and have high living standards. And it is that balance that we have really got to work on. And that is what we are really starting here I think. This week and in the future...
Talks about the importance of creativity and cleverness in today's globalized world as opposed to access to resources and labor. Also discusses the flexibility of policy that TRIPS allows in terms of laying out global IP rights. Discusses the IP system.
access to information
access to resources and labor
flexibility of policy
global IP rights
incentive and reward
I think there will be delays this time ...with a new system always results in an increase in work, a surge of work particularly with the changes that are now taking place in India, So it will be fully smooth. The developments with in India to deal with this ...the investment in technology ensuring that you have a profession that understands how to process, ensuring that your legal system now meets the new law. All of that can be learnt and we can share. I mean the thing is that nobody has to ... the way we keep saying it. The UK has recently had a ministerial visit to India and we stand within the UK office very willing to actually give whatever assistance we can. Now I mean assistance not actually taking over but assistance
Talks about the administrative details that would be result of the new system.
investment in technology
Discusses incentives for innovations and its relation to the IP system.
There is some. I mean I think its fair to say that clearly commercial research will be directed at where there is a feeling that there is a market of profit. That isn't an issue of IP. That is actually company investment decision. The European union as you know has a proposal for access to medicine. So in the countries where the cost of medicine on patent is too high; there are mechanisms for people to get access, which is important. And secondly I know my own government. has had proposals for actually addressing the issue not through the IP system but through the award of financial incentives to say to people that' ok there isn't a western style market for a particular medicine but if you go out and invent there is a reward for you that will fund the research so I don't think you can deal with all these problems in the IP system but quite clearly one of the primary responsibilities of any government. is the help for citizens. And that must actually be allowed for the patented medicines, is that they are available where they are needed and not diverted to richer markets for cheaper prices from the commercial game of little people. I think we do need to have a control of both sides of access to medicines and then the reward for the research for the person who did the work in the market where the market will take the price.
What is now that bothers the regulars who come here is the back road contains a large number of NGO's. Not only the public interest NGO's but also the rights of these representatives and there will be several here and they will have the freedom to make a comment. But also remember that in every country that is here, their own industrial group who have been talking to their government, to the people like me as to what they see as important in change, so that there is more than one way to get into this room either directly or through any one of these delegations. But they do have an interest, they do have a legitimate interest because the system has to work to encourage them to procure goods from the market so that the rest of us can benefit from.
access to medicine
incentives for innovations
market of profit
Describes the difference between WIPO and WTO.
The difference between WIPO and WTO is a big question. I wish I could answer it very very readily. I think the main thing is that WIPO is growing from being a purely technology based organization to one, that's thinking about the impact of IP system on innovation. The WTO is about open trade the 2 are very increasingly related. In time I think they will have to work more closely together at the moment there is clearly an overlap that isn't resolved and I know that the trade issue us the predominant one in the well being of mankind and the IP innovation one is supportive but we haven't yet got the mechanism. In the same way there are many UN agencies, which have to work together under a loose umbrella. I think that we are going to have the WTO for a long time much more a political organization because this is about governmental negotiations on trade
difference between wipo and wto
governmental negotiations on trade
impact of ip system
technology based organization
I think in terms of comparison of the WTO approach in bilateral and I am aware that the EU also has bilateral trade agreements. I mean every country is strained to make its agreements I think I would say that UK has always been and prefers to take a multilateral route. But you can't stop sovereign countries from making trade agreements with people who are ready to enter into those agreements even though the agreement may be ... you know... less that whole hearted. Well I think actually....
Talks about bilateral trade agreements.
bilateral trade agreements
Discusses the WTO and its approach.
I think so. I am not an expert on WTO I mean the ... I don't think this is a formal check on balance other than an appeal to WTO that somebody is not behaving properly and I think there will be many instances in practice where governments. Have come to a disagreement in trade and the WTO can in this sense legislate between.... We haven't yet got to the point where that's been to a breakdown. But if it did I think the solution has to be political ... I mean not within the bureaucracy in the sense of the WTO... but is...this is a huge system change.... We use the word globalization very easily and globally but in fact what that means in terms of working together ... I don't know its been worked through it doesn't mean that every country if its going to come to an agreement has to be prepared to compromise somewhere and the frame work for that globally is something that they are working on.
But I don't believe that the more there is a multilateral approach, the more likely we are to make progress
disagreement in trade
formal check and balance
Concludes his interview with a few words about the IP system.
Oh... don't know what to add ...anything... I mean...I would like to enforce that the IP is about allowing individuals reward for genuine creativity invention. And that creativity invention can be taken to the people for the good of the society. And that's the proper balance... is ... it is the balance system and it is now more accessible than ever because it does not depend what natural resource you use this on, its what intellectual resources you have and if somebody said very reasonably about India. Many people talk of India as a poor country... in fact India is a rich country currently populated by people who are poor, and I think India is certainly on the beginning of the road to success and it is clearly already taking that progress
Talks about what has happened in the past 3 weeks in terms of legislation in India.
(Setting up; small talk)...
Ellen t'Hoen: What's obvious is that in those 3 weeks people are people are following what is happening in India and a lot of people are looking at the legislation. There have also been meetings with the manufacturers to see... what they are willing to produce and also for us to express to them what it is we need. We are for example working on getting pediatric for formulations for ant vitro viral drugs to use in a project so that. So that's an example for something we are working on ...but it may sound like a big step from Delhi to WIPO meeting in Geneva but for us these things are very closely linked because here at WIPO the world intellectual property organization a lot of international rules are developed and once these rules are set some things have in general and in much more limited space as to what they can do in national level with their patent law...So that's one of the reasons why we are here to monitor what's happening here have an effect on medicines.
anti vitro viral drugs
world intellectual property organization
Well actually MSF has permanent status with WIPO but many of the organizations that are here for this meeting on the development agenda for WIPO did not have permanent status it takes a while before that can be granted and at first WIPO did not want to allow those groups on an ad-hoc basis but they changed their mind once they saw how much attention for this meeting there is. I think it's the beginning of a much larger trend, which I think is very positive that many more civil society groups are beginning to work over the shoulders of WIPO to see what they are actually doing and to see what the effects are for the daily lives of people ... and I think WIPO was used to have a... Kind of an NGO representatives that mostly represented the rights of holders or organization of manufacturers ...for example organization of the movie industry but to have civil society which comes here with a larger that public interest focus is fairly moved. They have not experienced and it is clear from the number of people that have come for the meeting from all over the world that the days that WIPO could operate in obscurity is over because too many people are begging to look into what this organization is doing and that is a good thing . WIPO is a UNO organization. It is not some private institution that can do whatever it wants. It has to comply with general WIPO...UN principles and I think WIPO isn't used to that yet so... this is a good thing
Talks about the involvement of the civil society in the WIPO meetings, and particularly the MSF.
public interest focus
rights of holders or organization
Can you repeat that ... I cant hear you
Discusses the development agenda and the possibility of it being included in the WIPO meetings.
Well we have contact with a number of them and obviously we are speaking but then the countries that have taken the lead in proposing that WIPO adapts a developmental agenda are Brazil and Argentina and they are joined by a group of about 14 countries I believe. I think at this stage India has not joined this group... I think this group is self titled, self defensive of development and what they argue is that WIPO as a UN agency should take own objectives of development in its work and what we are trying to do at this meeting is top specifically ask attention for the consequences of new patent rules on medicines in both... in 2 different tracks. One ... access to medicines in terms of the prices but secondly the objective of a patent system if to stimulate innovation so that new drugs, new diagnostics, new vaccines come on to the market but what we see is that the patent system is there where a lot of money is made. It may work but if a lot of money is not made it does not work and as a result we have seen a decline in research and development for diseases that primarily affect poor people and are very prevalent id developing countries. So those are the 2 issues that we are trying to insert herein the agenda and say if you want to look at development this is a very important area. Before WIPO moves with further harmonization of international patent rule there should be an assessment as to what the effects of the rules we have had so far on health and then particularly on the access to medicines, that has not happened. So we are in a situation where we only barely have the TRIPS agreement implemented. We begin to understand what the consequences are but there is no systematic assessment of what is actually happening in the world in terms of cost and benefits of the system and in the meantime through WIPO there is a kind of TRIPS to being put into place even before we know what the current system is doing. So we are trying to say lets ... lets put on the brakes and see how systems can be designed to benefit everybody and not just the entities that are the right holders at the moment, which are mostly the organizations, institutions and individuals from western countries.
costs and benefits of the system
new patent rules
research and development
Talks about the process that WIPO has organized to discuss the development agenda and the involvement of India in the group pushing for the agenda.
What I understand is that WIPO organized a meeting with a selected group of people and America is trying to push through circulations which they hear when all the country representatives are together could not push through. So it is a bit of a strange process. And these were people from different countries present but not necessarily representing their country and that's what India made clear. They said this meeting in terms of the position of India didn't mean anything because there was no one there actually speaking on the behalf of the government. I would be very surprised in the end if India would join the group that has tabled the development agenda. If you look at the recent amendment for e.g. Indian patent act that puts now pharmaceutical product patents in place its obvious that India has listened to many of the concerns that were expressed by many people from mostly from developing countries that depend on Indian pharmaceutical products. so there has been ...there has clearly ... there is a movement in India to have more public interest and broadened interest in India's public interest focus on all this.
indian patent act
pharmaceutical product patents
Discusses the US position on the development agenda and the problems with those talks.
Well what the US said yesterday as far as I understood is that we don't think WIPO shoed become a development organization. There are other organizations that are development org. basically they said that they shouldn't bother with this and they see development issues addressed as tech. assistance and I believe they proposed to put up a website where people can meet. Now, that of course is not at all what the countries that have tabled this proposal are talking about. They are not talking about putting up a website where people can meet. They are talking about fundamentally changing the focus of this organization that has a tradition of ...high IP ... and ever higher IP protection is good ,has very much focus on primarily defending the interest of the right holder or has never had or perhaps has lost the focus on how we put systems and rules and regulations in place that benefit the public at large. What the group pf developing countries are saying ... IP for e.g. Patent protection is a tool to achieve something and it is not a means in itself. And WIPO has a very old tradition of taking IP in itself as if subjective rather that recognizing it as a means to achieve something. And if ... cause that completely changes your way of thinking ... if you say it is a means to achieve something then regularly you have to look at ... does this tool or does this mean actually deliver what it is supposed to deliver. So that also means that you regularly have to assess.
higher IP protection
rules and regulations
Well I think that was a mistake in the argument. Quite often lot of people say not all rich countries have very strong IP laws so therefore when you have a very strong IP law you become a rich country. Well that's not how it works. it is the general patent state pharmaceutical patent for example. Have four walled certain levels of industrial development. When they first based the pharmaceutical patent, started in Europe it was the drug companies who said ... no we don't think this is a good idea because we rely very much on our ability to copy what others have done. If you close that off, then. We will not be able to develop. So in Europe many countries went slow and did not put pharmaceutical patents in place until in the late 70s because they wanted to ensure that their drug industry was of e certain level of development. Once that is the case the situation might change secondly economic benefit for certain people do not equal a benefit to the people at large. If you look at pharmaceutical industries for e.g. Benefits norms from the patent system have become tremendously wealthy. Many of their employees make very very good salaries. They are very happy with the system but it does not mean that many people who need access to the drug they produce, have access to the drugs . no it does not! Because it's exactly that the monopoly creates but it does not create richness in access to medicines. So... si that argument... I think is important. There are lots of those statements made... and there is a lot of talk about on patent system almost as if it is a belief... like as if I believe in patents I believe in IP. And I think what we are saying here is... let's look at in greater detail. Does it actually deliver what is being promised? What are the costs what are the benefits
One institution that has done that is the UK commission on IP rights which has an independent commission of the interest which was set up by the UK government. before and that commission very clearly said that there are certain conditions under which patent systems may work but for many developing countries the cost may be higher than the benefit. And ...there... that is actually where for the first time a group if experts looked at the evidence in the sense that we have to recognize that that one size fits all is not a good idea, ever higher levels is not a good idea ... and particularly looked at the whole idea of access to medicines and said here enormous flexibility is necessary.
Discusses the argument that strong IP laws means improved development.
access to medicines
general patent state
strong ip laws
Well the change is very very slow but what it has done is that it has given some evidence to support people who tried to raise those concerns and it was encouraging to see the UK delegation for example. To bring up the report and quote from the report, to say that a discussion like this is a very good one. More and more organizations are looking at it and it has also encouraged other UN agencies to get involved. The WHO for example. Does a lot more in this than it used to... not enough... but you see WHO will also engage in a debate here and make a statement. This week I think ... would be very ... that would be very important because they are all part of the same UN family and they should strive to much greater level of coherence amongst themselves.
Exterior Shots of UN Buildings