Consumer Project on Technology
P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036
January 22, 2000
Thomas M. Rosshirt
Foreign Policy Spokeman for the Vice President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
I am writing to express my astonishment regarding the US
government January 19 communication with the Government of
Thailand in the dispute over the issuance of a compulsory license
for patents held by Bristol-Myers Squibb for the manufacturing of
ddI, an important HIV/AIDS drugs.
This is the way it seems to me:
On June 25, 1999, in a letter to the US Congressional Black
Caucus, the Vice President signals a change in US policy during
on the issue of compulsory licensing of HIV/AIDS drugs in
- November 25, 1999, an official from the Thailand Ministry of
Health tells hundreds of public health groups in a meeting in
Amsterdam that its government will not issue a compulsory license
for ddI or other HIV/AIDS drugs, due to US trade pressures.
- On December 1, 1999, in the middle of huge protests at the
WTO, President Clinton announces that US trade policy will no
longer be a barrier to access to essential medicines.
- On January 10, 2000, the Vice President appears at the UN
Security Council to discuss the global HIV/AIDS crisis, and
mentions the change in US trade policy. The Vice President
receives enormous positive press coverage for this announcement.
- On January 12, 2000, Act Up, Doctors Without Borders,
the Consumer Project on Technology, Public Citizen and other NGOs
meet with USTR, US PTO, and DHHS to discuss public health trade
disputes. Doctors without Borders (aka MSF) and all of the other
NGOS ask USTR to send a clear signal to Thailand that the US
government has changed its trade policy, and that Thailand will
face no pressure from the US government if it issues a compulsory
license for ddI. USTR is told that the NGO groups want the US
government to send the Thai government a letter outlining the new
policy, and they also ask for a copy of the letter, which they
say they will use in other country disputes as evidence that US
policy has changed. NGOs leave the meeting believing the US
government will do this.
The ddI case is considered a very clear cut case. ddI was
invented on a government grant, and the US government obtained
the patent for using ddI on HIV/AIDS. In Thailand Bristol-Myers
Squibb is using two process or formation patents to block generic
production, including one that includes claims already rejected
by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Thailand has the
infrastructure to treat HIV/AIDS patents and about one in 60
Thailand citizens are HIV positive. There have been Thailand
protests for the ddI compulsory license since fall of 1998.
- On January 17, 2000, the Thai government announces it has
rejected the ddI compulsory license, telling protesters that the
rejection is based upon US trade pressures.
- On January 19, 2000, the US government presents the Thai
government with an undated, untitled and unsigned letter, on
plain paper. The document includes 7 unnumbered talking points.
According to the document, "The USG has generally viewed
compulsory licenses as being undesirable because they may
undermine intellectual property rights." Nowhere in the document
does the US government ever say it would support a Thai decision
to issue a compulsory license for ddI. The talking points also
say that if the Thai government still wants to issue a compulsory
license, it must comply with several WTO TRIPS conditions. The
US government letter then goes on to quote only those sections of
Article 31 of the TRIPS that emphasize patent owner rights, and
omits the sections of Article 31 that emphasize user or
government rights. For example, there is not mention at all of
the provisions in Article 31 for government or non-commercial
public use, even though the Thai compulsory license is for a
public sector agency.
In my opinion, the January 19, 2000 communication to the
Thai government does not represent any change in US policy, and
it difficult to see how it can be read as anything other than
continued trade pressure against the Thai on the ddI license.
If the US government wants to send a clear signal to the
Thai regarding the ddI compulsory license, it can surely do so.
If it wants to send a clear signal to the whole world, it can
clearly do so. That fact that this not happening is causing me
to wonder if President Clinton and Vice President Gore are being
straight with the American public regarding US foreign policy.
I would like to hear from the Administration as to what official
US policy is on the issue of the Thai government issuing a
compulsory license for ddI, and I would like this on official US
government letterhead, with someone's name attached.
Consumer Project on Technology
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