New Report from Taxpayer-Funded UN Misses the Mark on Medicinal Advances and IP

Michi Iljazi

September 21, 2016

Intellectual Property (IP) continues to come under fire from bad actors all over the world. Unfortunately, sometimes those attacking IP rights are governments and institutional bodies that should be promoting innovation and creation. Now, the taxpayer-funded United Nations (UN) has started an assault on IP. A new UN report titled, The United Nations Secretary-general’s High-level Panel on Access to Medicines Report, shows the lack of understanding of the importance of IP in providing for greater innovation and creativity in the marketplace. 

The report comes from the UN High Level Panel on Access to Medicines (UNHLP), which was created in November of 2015 and is made up of 16 members plus an expert advisory group of individuals and UN institutions. The panel was formed in order to “review and assess proposals and recommend the solutions for remedying the policy incoherence between the justifiable rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules, and public health in the context of health technologies.”

There were several components of the report that are faulty.  Here are a few:

  • Singling out IP as a barrier to global access to medicines
  • Encouraging the use of compulsory licenses to override patents
  • Pushing a limited role for the private sector in medical R&D
  • Calling for restrictions on patentability of medical innovations
  • Placing the UN ahead of national governments in oversight of IP rights

This report completely misses the mark. Two recent publications show just how important IP rights are to providing innovation and access to medicines and other aspects of healthcare. 

First, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International IP Index from the Global IP Center, shows that “economies with the strongest IP protections are 60 percent more likely to provide environments conducive to biotech innovation. And economies with specific protections for the life sciences field see an average of 13 times more biomedical investment than those lacking IP protections.”

Also, a report titled The Patent Truth About Health, Innovation and Access released this summer from the Hudson Institute detailed many reasons why the UNHLP report was wrong. The report detailed how the true barriers to access are bad public policy, high taxation, and excessive tariffs and regulation, not IP rights. Most notably, the report concluded that “the intellectual property system has encouraged innovation that has saved millions of lives by providing the poor with access to lifesaving therapies.”

In addition to criticism from the United States and other nations about the panel’s hostility to IP, there are other problems with the UNHLP:

  • The process for creating the panel lacked vetting/input from member states
  • Focus aimed at going after IP rights in relation to medical advancement
  • Most of the UNHLP “experts” come from activist groups hostile to industry
  • No clarity on what the panel will do with UNHLP’s recommendations
  • Transparency issues in how the panel was formed and how it has operated

The latest report from the UNHLP continues what has been an alarming trend to try and harm IP and halt the progress being made on getting better protections in place for the creative community. This report also highlights the need for strong pushback from those who care about making sure that IP is strengthened both at home and abroad.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance has continued to urge the United States and other nations around the world to encourage stronger IP protections. Taxpayers and the world economy benefit with stronger IP rights.  Industries are able to flourish and create more and better jobs and much more desirable goods.  A joint report by the Economics and Statistics Administration and the United States Patent and Trademark Office shows that 40 million jobs are supported by IP intensive industries.

Now that the UN has shown an open hostility to IP rights and American taxpayers, it is time for Congress to step in and conduct meaningful oversight.  A message needs to be sent to the UN that taxpayers will not fund an agency just so they can put out studies that harm IP or economic development.