Intellectual property issues viewed as last TPP hurdle

JIJI

Trade negotiators for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in Guam are now focusing on intellectual property issues, which appear likely to be the last hurdle to concluding the talks.

Chief negotiators from Japan, the United States and 10 other countries engaged in the negotiations were working Saturday to narrow down the issues that should be left to high-level political decisions, with a view to reaching a broad agreement at the next ministerial meeting, expected to be held next month or later.

Still, given that there are many sticky issues in the field, it remains difficult to break the stalemate, a Japanese government source said.

The countries are particularly divided over how long clinical data on new drugs should be protected. Japan currently bans the development of generic drugs for eight years, in principle, after an original drug is approved for marketing. The United States is calling for setting the protection period for cutting-edge biopharmaceuticals at 12 years.

Meanwhile, Australia and some emerging economies are pushing for five years or fewer, due to their high reliance on less expensive generic drugs.

A compromise proposal that calls for a shorter protection period for cold medicines and other drugs with low development costs is being studied, but Australia’s opposition is persistent, a source familiar with the negotiations said.

Another thorny issue in the intellectual property field is the duration of copyright protection, which is set at 70 years after the deaths of rights holders in the United States and Australia, and at 50 years in Canada and Malaysia.

The U.S. call for 70 years is now on the table, and Japan, which has a 50-year protection period for musical and literary works, is poised to support it, depending on detailed terms.

The issue of protecting geographical indications for agricultural products, such as Champagne, is also likely to be left to the envisioned ministerial meeting.

The United States and Australia are strongly opposed to setting strict rules on such indications, concerned that they could hamper efforts to expand exports.

  • Liars N. Fools

    IPR protection is a code word for super high drug prices, with the additional controversy being Big Pharma about to challenge national bargaining power to keep drug prices down. This is one of the “hidden” sweeteners for big drug developers, and a headache for people who need drugs and health insurers, whether private or public.

    Drug developers should get a return on their research and development, including for the large number of failures. But there has to be some government involvement to insure availability and affordability.

    Be very careful about this and other aspects of TPP.