The United States Trade Representative’s office on 30 April announced the elevation of its pressure on China, Russia, Thailand, and others to better protect US intellectual property rights. But the announcement stirred reactions by accentuating the increasingly political-sounding criticism by developed countries of Thailand’s decision to utilise flexibilities under international trade rules allowing countries to manufacture cheap versions of patented drugs.
Brazil, meanwhile, was taken off the "watch list" of USTR’s annual so-called Special 301 process for improvements in copyright enforcement. It will be monitored under a so-called "out-of-cycle" review, along with the Czech Republic and Pakistan, and reassessed in a year. A USTR official told reporters that Brazil’s recent declaration that the antiretroviral drug Efavirenz is of public interest, which could lead to a compulsory license, had not worked against Brazil but would be considered in the upcoming review.
This year’s report is also marked by the results of the first province-by-province analysis of China, seen as the largest source of pirated and counterfeit goods globally. Russia risks losing US support for a multilateral agreement on the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization, a US trade official said in a telephone press briefing. And a contributing reason for Thailand’s elevation on the list is its decision to issue compulsory licenses for three pharmaceuticals (two HIV/AIDS drugs and a heart disease treatment), allowing the use of the patented material to produce cheaper versions, an official said.
"The [Bush] administration’s top priorities this year continue to be addressing weak IPR protection and enforcement, particularly in China and Russia," the report said. "Although this year’s Special 301 report shows positive progress in many countries, rampant counterfeiting and piracy problems have continued to plague China and Russia, indicating a need for stronger IPR regimes."
The report contains separate sections on "counterfeit pharmaceuticals", "intellectual property and health," and "supporting pharmaceutical innovation," which tout the advantages of strong IP protection. For Thailand, one of the reasons cited for its elevation is "the further indications of a weakening of respect for patents" by issuing the compulsory licenses, even though it was not accused of violating WTO rules.
"While the United States acknowledges a country’s ability to issue such licenses in accordance with WTO rules, the lack of transparency and due process exhibited in Thailand represents a serious concern," the report said. "These actions have compounded previously expressed concerns such as delay in the granting of patents and weak protection against unfair commercial use for data generated to obtain marketing approval."