Current Issues

TRIPS and global health

On my way to work this morning, I listened to a thought-provoking podcast by the Philosopher’s Zone aired on the 6th February 2010, featuring guest speaker, Thomas Pogge.

As a brief introduction to the podcast, in 1994, the World Trade Organization (WTO) introduced the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS established the minimum standards for intellectual property regulations. Although TRIPS provided incentives to boost innovation, but it also provoked much criticisms from developing countries, academics and NGO.

Thomas Pogge, professor of philosophy at Yale University, talked about the negative impact of TRIPS on climate change and health issues in poor, developing countries. This regulation stated that inventors have the right to not share its patented technology to others. One negative impact of this was that low-cost manufacturers in countries such as India were not allowed to manufacture drugs at a cheaper price for the needy.

Why do inventors not let other manufacturers develop healthcare or green technologies at a cheaper cost? There is no incentive for inventors to do so. By sharing their trade secrets, they would lose more than what they can gain. Thus, inventors often choose to manufacture the drugs at a higher price and keep the information top-secret.

I admit that I am not an expert in this issue, but it is clear that we need a new way to reward inventors and also, to maximize the impact of the invention. Until we can find that golden mean, new technologies in the cleantech and medtech industries would remain far too expensive for developing countries, who ironically are the ones who need them most.

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