U.S. pushing rules that ‘favor big corporate right holders, and undermine the public’s freedom to use knowledge,’ intellectual property expert says
WikiLeaks on Thursday released a second updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Intellectual Property Rights chapter, charging that it will hinder affordable access to medicines globally, increase online surveillance, and impinge on civil liberties while benefiting Big Pharma and other corporate interests.
“Our first impression in reading the document is the extent to which the United States has sought hundreds of changes in intellectual property norms, some small and subtle, others blunt and aggressive, nearly of all of which favor big corporate right holders, and undermine the public’s freedom to use knowledge,” declared James Love of Knowledge Ecology International.
The TPP is the world’s largest economic trade agreement that will, if it goes into effect, encompass more than 40 percent of the world’s GDP. The IP chapter covers topics from pharmaceuticals, patent registrations, and copyright issues to digital rights.
The trade pact has been mostly negotiated in secret, with only select government officials and corporations able to see the text. To that end, WikiLeaks hasreleased several draft chapters. A previous draft of the IP chapter was leaked in November 2013.
“Since that point, some controversial and damaging areas have had little change; issues surrounding digital rights have moved little,” according to a WikiLeaks press statement Thursday. “However, there are significant industry-favoring additions within the areas of pharmaceuticals and patents. These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto.”
In their analysis, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange and editor Sarah Harrison note that the U.S. is pushing for long automatic monopolies for biotech drugs or biologics, including most new treatments for cancer. In addition, the revised TPP chapter includes expansions and extensions of patent protections and terms as well as a provision proposed by the U.S. and Japan that would require granting of patents for new drugs that are slightly altered from a previous patented one–a technique known as “evergreening” that the pharmaceutical industry uses to prolong market monopoly.
“In short, the TPP will greatly reduce the ability for creating more affordable drugs to save more lives, and increase the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to retain monopolies,” Assange and Harrison write.
According to a Public Citizen analysis of the leaked document:
Measures in the text, which advantage the patent-based pharmaceutical industry, face stiff opposition from most of the other TPP countries and health care advocates. Entrenched disagreements on these issues will be among the top challenges for TPP trade ministers who will be meeting in Australia at the end of October in an effort to meet Obama’s November deadline to complete negotiations.
Large brand-name drug firms want to use the TPP to impose rules throughout Asia that will raise prices on medicine purchases for consumers and governments, and be in effect for the next several decades. With billions at stake, Big Pharma wants the TPP to be a road map for rules that will govern Pacific Rim economies for the next several decades.
“The leak shows our government demanding rules that would lead to preventable suffering and death in Pacific Rim countries, while eliminating opportunities to ease financial hardship on American families and our health programs at home,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.
Furthermore, the draft rules under negotiation would increase online spying, said Alberto Cerda, founding member of the Chilean organization Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights).
“For most non-American users, these rules are new and raise a number of significant concerns about their potential abuse and misuse by the government, corporations and the big content industry,” Cerda said. “[T]he TPP would impose new obligations for spying on Internet users under the guise of enforcing copyright. This should raise concerns not only among countries that currently lack such regulations, but also among U.S. citizens, because the TPP would expand the online spy network at home.”
The draft leaked on Thursday also offers a glimpse at shifting country alliances. Whereas the U.S. and Australia used to be closely aligned, the latest version suggests the U.S. and Japan are now tightly linked.
As Mike Masnick notes at TechDirt: “A bunch of countries are pushing for the right to cancel a patent if it ‘is used in a manner determined to be anti-competitive,’ but of course, the U.S. and Japan are completely against such a thing. Instead, the U.S. and Japan say it should only be cancelled on grounds that would have been justified for refusing to grant the patent in the first place. In other words, most of the countries recognize that patents can be abused in anti-competitive ways and want to protect against that. The US and Japan, on the other hand, appear to be happy with enabling anti-competitive abuses with patents.”
But the IP chapter’s text also shows that many countries are pushing back.
“[T]he immediate takeaway is that the U.S. remains fairly isolated in its efforts to overhaul patent and copyright law around the world with Canada emerging as the leading opponent of its demands,” writes University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist at his blog.
Why is Canada opposing so many U.S. demands?
Simply put, the U.S. wants Canada to eviscerate many of the recent reforms found in copyright and counterfeiting legislation along with court rulings on patent protection. These demands focus on enhanced criminal liability for copyright infringement, eliminating the Canadian approach to Internet service provider liability, extending the term of copyright protection, and expanding patent protection. Canadian negotiators have thus far resisted many of the proposed changes, offering alternatives that are compatible with current law. Yet as the treaty negotiations continue, the pressure to cave to U.S. pressure will no doubt increase, raising serious concerns about whether the TPP will force the Canadian government to overhaul recently enacted legislation that it has steadfastly defended as reflecting a balanced, “made in Canada” approach.
Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Brunei; ministers from those countries will attend a meeting in Australia at the end of this month in the hopes of breaking the impasse in November.