University says granting patents will make medicine unaffordable for Thais.
A 15-day deadline has been set for the Intellectual Property Department to drop all medical cannabis-related patent applications or face a lawsuit in Administrative Court.
The Rangsit University and the Union of Thai Traditional Medicine petitioned the department yesterday urging it to waive all patent applications handed in by transnational pharmaceutical companies in order to protect people’s right to affordable medicines.
Panthep Phuaphongphan, dean of Rangsit University’s Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Ageing, said that at least 31 patent applications have been reportedly handed in for medical cannabis even before the herb is legalised, which is a clear violation of many laws.
“Not only does accepting patent applications before cannabis is legalised go against the current drug law, the Intellectual Property Department is also violating its own law by allowing the patent registration of an existing innovation and a natural plant extract,” Panthep said.
He pointed out that if these patents were approved, Thai researchers would no longer be able to develop cannabis-based medications, forcing Thai patients to rely on expensive imported medicines created by pharmaceutical giants.
Panthep named two giants, Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals, as having applied for patents.
He also pointed out that cannabis has been used in Thai traditional medication for a long time, and producers of traditional medicine will end up facing intellectual property issues if the department continues ignoring the patent problem.
“We urge the Intellectual Property Department to correct this issue by clearing all cannabis-related patent applications within 15 days from now, or the university will have to take legal action,” Panthep stressed.
Withoon Lienchamroon, director of BioThai Foundation, said this problem with patents clearly showed that the Intellectual Property Department was failing to protect national interest and allowing biodiverse resources of the country to be stolen by “biological pirates”.
He said the department has done nothing to revise Thailand’s intellectual property protection law to protect the country’s natural biological resources of the country.
“Even countries like Switzerland – where many transnational pharmaceutical conglomerates have set up their headquarters – have more progressive laws to protect their resources,” he said.
Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, vice president of FTA Watch, dismissed the department’s claim that cannabis patent applications could not be waived because it had to follow the World Trade Organisation and Patent Cooperation Treaty. Actually, she said, these treaties do not require Thailand to protect intellectual property on natural extracts from plants or animals to such a high extent. Therefore, she said, the department’s explanation was unreasonable.