Morocco’s acceptance of EU patent law threatens millions of lives
Othoman Mellouk, ITPC-MENA
On 25 January 2015, civil society organisations in Morocco, concerned about the lives of millions of citizens, issued a press statement because the Moroccan Patent Office (Office of Industrial and Commercial Property – OMPIC) has formalised an agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO) to validate European patents in Morocco on 1 March 2015.
This means that patent applications and patents granted in Europe will be legally recognised as Moroccan patents and will be subject to Moroccan law. Morocco is the first country outside of the European Patent Organisation to validate the European patent in its territory.
The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition in North Africa-Middle East (ITPC-MENA), Association de Lutte Contre le Sida (ALCS) and the Collective for the Right to Health in Morocco (CMDS) denounce such agreement designed primarily to strengthen the multinational companies monopolies on the medicines market in Morocco and block the use of lifesaving generic drugs which will have a huge impact on the right to health and access to medicines.
According to Himmich Hakima, Chair of ALCS: “Morocco and Europe have diametrically opposed interests in the protection of intellectual property. European countries are exporters of innovation and have an interest in protecting the most of their industry. Morocco is a consumer of innovation. Instead of comparing to Europe we need to learn from countries such as Brazil, India or the Egypt who apply the protection required by the World Trade Organisation while protecting the public interest including access to health and medicine. These are the main recommendations of international organisations such as the WHO.”
The European Patent Office is known for its permissive patent granting. In 2013, 266,000 patent applications were filed in Europe compared to only 1,096 requests in Morocco. In Europe, multinational companies routinely use the patenting of medicines from minor changes that do not really constitute an invention, lack novelty and are not considered patentable under WTO standards.
With this new agreement, OMPIC will treat as many patent applications as in Europe within a period of 18 months set by the law and with threats of sanctions imposed by the Free Trade Agreement with the United States for each day of delay. Mellouk Othman, Advocacy Officer at ITPC-MENA stated: “With such pressure on OMPIC it is clear that many abusive patents will be issued with a consequent monopoly and market exclusivity granted to multinationals for a period of 20 years on drugs that do not deserve it and for which the health system and the citizen will pay a heavy price.” In addition: “The principle of national sovereignty, according to the WTO requires that the patent applicant makes the process of filing an application with the national authorities of the country where he seeks protection. This agreement also represents a real turning on European tutelage of our patent system.”
For example, the Egyptian patent office recently rejected the patent application for Gilead’s HCV drug sofosbuvir on the grounds of lack of innovation and novelty; and concluded that sofosbuvir does not deserve the grant of an exclusive right to 20 years. Thus, Egypt will be able to use the generic versions of the drug. For cons, the European Patent Office has validated despite the lack of innovation and novelty.
The proliferation of IP and Trade Agreements in Morocco, we are entitled to ask whether the policy in the country is consistent with the efforts of the Ministry of Health to lower drug prices and expand access to health insurance. The current policy seems to favor the profits of the pharmaceutical lobby to the detriment of citizens’ interests while ignoring the recommendations of public health agencies such as WHO.
ITPC-MENA, ALCS and CMDS request the freezing of the agreement and the creation, like in other developing countries, of multisectoral national commission including the Ministry of Health and the civil society to develop a National Intellectual Property Policy that takes into account the international obligations concerning the protection but also the level of development of the country and sensitive social concerns including access to medicine and health. The three organisations also call for strengthening South-South cooperation with countries and patent offices that have the same interests and priorities rather than losers partnerships with industrialised nations.
ITPC-MENA press release. Guardianship of the Europe on the patent system of Morocco puts lives of millions of citizens in danger. (24 January 2015).