Discuss the pros and cons of this activity.
Generally, what are the implications of this action for patent
law? Is this lawful? Is this moral? Can patent law be immoral? Why?
Synopsis: Doctors without Borders (MSF), a non-profit charity, smuggled generic AIDS treatment drugs from Brazil to treat patients in South Africa. This is an act of defiance. By importing generic drugs from Brazil, MSF infringed on GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim patents.
The South African constitution protects the rights to life and dignity, and by importing these drugs, MSF believed they were upholding these rights. Recall that patent infringement is a civil matter—not a criminal one. These drugs are patented in South Africa, so there is no competition between companies to make and market these drugs in South Africa, and the drugs are too expensive for wider use. By importing these drugs from Brazil at much lower prices—in breach of the patent law—MSF challenged both the South African government and the pharmaceutical industry to allow generic drugs to be made more accessible.
Some pharmaceutical companies supply a limited amount of free drugs or cut-price drugs to certain countries under particular conditions; however, they could do much more. They need to determine how they can allow other companies to manufacture drugs in competition to their own products so prices decrease in poor countries. Their lawyers need to find a way of doing this that protects the patents they hold in rich countries. At the same time, governments must do more as even the costs of generic drugs are too high for the governments of most poor nations. Taxpayers in European nations and North America will have to pay the costs.
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