Ecuador’s compulsory licensing plan and alternate vision for IP

In July of this year, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa articulated a vision of intellectual property as “a mechanism for development for the people.” His speech before a live audience on the nationally televised program “Enlace Ciudadano” (“Citizen Connection”) announced a new state policy of using compulsory licenses to improve access to medicines.

I’ve translated an excerpt below. The clip is available (in Spanish and sign language) on YouTube here, as well as the homepage of the Ecuadorean Intellectual Property Institute (IEPI, Ecuador’s patent office), here.

Last week, President Correa announced plans to use compulsory licenses to facilitate the domestic production of medicines. Here is the story in El Universo, courtesy of Judit Rius Sanjuan.

Correa, an economist recently elected to a second term (with a simple majority and a twenty-three point lead over his closest competitor), has charged high-ranking officials in his administration to implement the policy.

Nevertheless, we have heard reports of multinational pharmaceutical companies organizing behind the scenes to disrupt the licensing policy before it can take effect. To realize President Correa’s vision, Ecuador needs the support of the global access to medicines movement.

To show your support and find out how you can help, write:

Essential Action, [email protected] and

Health Action International Ecuador, [email protected]

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From “Enlace Ciudadano,” July 16, 2009:

“Therefore, the subject of intellectual property is tremendously important. What is our vision? When something has been invented or discovered, the more people that use it, the better. For example, a medicine. We’re talking about human rights. Do you think it’s ethically sustainable that if a cure for cancer is invented, people could continue to die because they don’t have the resources to pay? That because the medicine has a registered property right, and because I, Laboratory X, invested in its development, you have to pay me $2,000 for each pill?

This cannot be. When making the [gestures to indicate a “single”] pill costs far less. And it’s to save lives. Especially in these situations, we have to change our conception of property; the traditional conception, the neoliberal conception. Compañeros, we are discussing all of this.

There is, in our legislation, what they call compulsory licensing. I, as President, can order that we issue a compulsory license for Brand X, so they can copy this medicine and make generics, and the people have access to this medicine, to health, to a cure for their illness. [Applause.] And this is exactly what we are going to begin to do, with respect to medicines, with respect to agrochemicals, with respect to everything possible.”

. . . [Correa addresses non-profit motives that also drive innovation (“vocation” and “dedication”), and cites universities as key centers of research and innovation in the public interest.] . . .

“Intellectual property is a mechanism for development for the people. This is our vision of intellectual property. It’s not a mechanism to enrich the pharmaceutical or agrochemical companies. It’s a mechanism for development for the people.”