This post is part of SpicyIP’s coverage of the Fourth Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest.
The Global Congress is a confluence of academics, policy advocates and activists working in the sphere of IP and Public Interest. The stated aim is to enable participants to share research, experiences and insights in tackling unbalanced law reform and enforcement proposals. The session on Health Technology, Innovation and Access in the Access to Medicines Track was an embodiment of this stated purpose. The session began with a keynote by Justice Michael Kirby who has recently been appointed by the UN Secretary General on a High Level Panel to tackle policy incoherence between IP and Human Rights. The relationship between the two fields of law has been a recurring theme in the conference so far- it was extremely interesting to see the participants in this session orient their arguments and questions towards the approaches that this High Level Committee can adopt when attempting to resolve this policy incoherence.
Following Justice Kirby’s address, the session saw human rights academic Lisa Forman, senior advocate Anand Grover and Cambodian human rights activist Pisey Li bring their unique perspectives on the role of this committee. Forman was of the view that the Panel must take a strong and direct approach to reconciling Access to Medicines and IPR. She reminded us of the potential moral force of human rights rhetoric, which transcends beyond legal articulation. She suggested that the Panel must root their discussion firmly within the human rights framework of Right to Health, and must consider disengaging from TRIPS altogether. This tied in to her comments in one of the Plenary sessions yesterday, where she noted that repeatedly emphasizing on narrow exceptions and flexibilities in TRIPS only serves to strengthen the norms that surround TRIPS, and this is not a good outcome for human rights overall.
Anand Grover’s comments to the Panel were around Voluntary Licenses, and how the blind acceptance of VLs as any kind of solution to access to medicines is a step backwards. He also commented on how Compulsory Licenses have limited impact due to the strong pressure inserted by lobbies on developing country governments. He also expressed how there is more fragmentation within the people fighting for access to medicines today then there has been before- and this has been an impediment in fundamentally re-imagining the patent system itself. This reimagination, in his submission, is the need of the hour and must be the mandate of the UN Committee.
Pisey Li then made a powerful and emotional presentation demonstrating how activist groups are empowering groups like sex workers in Cambodia. Her plea to the UN Committee was to remember that people must be placed before profits and how changes in policy have a real impact on lives and livelihoods. She ended with a tribute to Andrew Hunter, a prominent figure in HIV activism who passed away in 2013.
The speeches were followed by a Q&A session with Justice Kirby. Questions were raised on a range of issues from the practicality of moving beyond a patent system, to the role of philanthropist foundations in the public health crisis. Surely, the Panel will benefit from the perspectives shared over this session.
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