April 30, 2007 / 3:27 PM / 13 years ago

U.S. chides Thailand for overriding drug patents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration criticized Thailand on Monday for steps it took to override drug patents of certain life-saving drugs, calling the issue a “serious concern.”

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office, in an annual report on how well countries protect U.S. intellectual property rights (IPR), said it was elevating Thailand to its “priority watch list” because of an “overall deterioration in the protection and enforcement of IPR in Thailand.”

“In late 2006 and early 2007, there were further indications of a weakening of respect for patents, as the Thai Government announced decisions to issue compulsory licenses for several patented pharmaceutical products,” USTR said.

“While the United States acknowledged a country’s ability to issue such licenses in accordance with WTO (World Trade Organization) rules, the lack of transparency exhibited in Thailand represents a serious concern,” USTR said.

The USTR did not mention any medicines by name, but appeared to be referring to the Thai government’s decision to issue compulsory licenses for certain AIDS drugs.

Shortly after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted last September, Thailand declared compulsory licenses to make or buy generic equivalents of an AIDS drug owned by Merck & Co..

Then it overrode patents on another AIDS drug owned by Abbott Laboratories and a heart disease drug owned by Sanofi-Aventis, prompting an outcry from the companies and praise from HIV patient rights groups.

Abbott has been criticized for its aggressive pricing of AIDS drugs in developing countries and the company has said it would stop launching new drugs in Thailand to protest the Thai government’s decision in January to override international drug patents.

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