Canada has become the first WTO member to take advantage of new pharmaceutical licensing rules intended to improve access to essential medicines in developing countries.
In early October, Canada informed the WTO that it would be exporting generic versions of TriAvir, a group of three drugs used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, to Rwanda. Patents on the drugs that make up TriAvir are held by GlaxoSmithKline, Shire, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
In December 2005, WTO members amended the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to allow developing countries to more easily import generic copies of medicines needed to treat serious public health problems like HIV/AIDS.
The amendment was intended to close what was seen as a loophole in the TRIPS Agreement. The TRIPS allowed governments to issue “compulsory licenses” -- effectively suspending patents – for cheaper generic drugs only if the drugs were intended “predominantly” for the domestic market.
This requirement made it difficult for many developing countries to get access to cheap medicines as they had limited or no capacity manufacture pharmaceuticals. To address this, WTO members agreed to waive the domestic consumption requirement so that poor countries could import drugs produced under compulsory license elsewhere.