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South Africa Proposes Intellectual Property Policy

South Africa is currently looking for ways to implement a proposed National Policy on Intellectual Properties in an effort to restrict patent evergreening and increase innovation – especially in the medical industry.

Currently, the country approves nearly every patent application it receives simply because a company has done the necessary paperwork. In 2008, the country granted nearly 2,440 pharmaceutical patents. Without a patent review system in place, pharmaceutical companies are able to easily update and receive patents for medications, giving them exclusive right to sell a particular product for up to 20 years.

Because the country doesn’t really examine the patent applications that it receives, pharmaceutical companies have been able to obtain multiple patents covering the same drug. This keeps drug prices high, forcing patients to pay nearly eight times as much as those in India for medication.

Though South Africa isn’t as huge of a market, the country has taken notes on the battles that India has faced over patents. If accepted, these new policies will “set the stage for changes that promise to increase competition in the pharmaceutical sector and lower the price of medicines in South Africa.”

It could take years before the country has a finalized policy in place, however, it will give over five million South Africans living with AIDS and other illnesses access to affordable treatments. A more structured IP system would allow for generic drugs to hit the market at reasonable prices, and may even open up the country to imported medicines from around the world.

The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa claims that its welcoming of anything in support of increasing innovation, and the Department of Trade and Industry is inviting the
public to comment on the reform through October 4th.

“The policy notes that South Africa should set a higher standard for innovation, so patents are not granted for simply combining existing medicines, or registering new uses for previously patented drugs. At the same time, the policy notes the need for a substantive patent examination system, which should better ensure criteria for granting a patent [are] upheld.”