Intellectual property policy to help build SA

Monday, October 30, 2017

South Africa is in the process of developing its intellectual property policy so it can better contribute to the country’s development objectives.

In a joint statement on Friday, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and the United Nations institutions said the policy seeks to achieve coherence in government.

The dti, together with other ministries forming the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Intellectual Property (IMCIP), is developing the policy to help the country meet the objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP), National Industrial Policy Framework and various iterations of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP).

Representatives from the main constituents of Intellectual Property (IP) policy -- such as government representatives, civil society, business, patient groups, academia and the United Nations -- held a consultative workshop last week in order to garner perspectives on the draft policy.

“This is crucial to enable government to develop a balanced, evidence based policy,” said the dti and UN parties.

Interested parties have until 17 November to submit written comments on the draft policy that was published in August.

The three-day workshop was organised by the dti, in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The workshop is one of numerous public engagement processes that will inform the IP policy document.

Health and IP

The policy will also focus on health-related matters. The parties at the workshop noted that the burden of infectious diseases, including HIV, TB and malaria, continues to persist in sub-Saharan Africa, posing a significant challenge to health systems and populations across the region.

This challenge is further compounded by the emerging diseases such cardio-vascular disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer.

While significant advances have been made in developing new treatments, vaccines and diagnostic tools for these diseases, developing countries such as South Africa face significant barriers in adequately accessing essential life-saving health technologies.

In September 2015, 193 UN Member States including South Africa adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages acknowledges the critical importance of access to affordable medicines and vaccines.

The workshop agreed that access to medicines is dependent on a number of determinants, intellectual property being among these.

“The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of IP Rights (TRIPS), to which South Africa is signatory, sets out minimum standards for protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights in all members and contains flexibilities that can and should be used to promote public health objectives,” said the dti.

It noted that many new health technologies are patent-protected and sold at high prices when first introduced to the market.

“The lack of access through public health systems has also meant that patients are burdened with high out-of-pocket payments for essential drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tests. These are major drivers of inequalities and poverty in low-and-middle-income countries such as South Africa.”

The country’s first draft IP policy was published by the dti in September 2013. The policy was met with criticism. In March 2017, Cabinet reviewed the new draft policy after which it was published in August.

Interested parties can view the policy at http://www.dti.gov.za/gazzettes/IP_Policy.pdf . – SAnews.gov.za

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