Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines: An Analysis of Legislation in Central America

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Intellectual property, Central America, Medication


Globalization of intellectual property (IP) protection for medicines has been advancing during the past decade. Countries are obliged to adapt their legislation as a requirement of their membership to the World Trade Organization or as a condition of being part of international trade agreements. There is a growing recognition that, in low-income countries, stronger IP protection is a barrier to access to medicines. At the same time, the number of low-income countries writing national legislation to protect IP for pharmaceutical products is growing worldwide, but little research has been done on the ways in which this process is happening at the national level. This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of the implementation of IP legislation at the national level by providing a comparative analysis of the countries that are part of the United States–Dominican Republic–Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The analysis shows three trends. First, countries have often implemented stronger IP protection than required by trade agreements. Second, some countries have adopted IP protection before signing the trade agreements. Third, the process of ratification of DR-CAFTA increased public debate around these issues, which in some cases led to IP legislation that considers public health needs. These trends suggest that industrialized countries and the pharmaceutical industry are using more tactics than just trade agreements to push for increased IP protection and that the process of national legislation is a valid arena for confronting public health needs to those of the industry.

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