Why fix the patent laws?

While the battle for HIV treatment was won in South Africa – the wider war for access to medicines has been lost. Today, new generation antiretrovirals and new medicines to treat hepatitis C, drug-resistant TB, and many cancers are unaffordable and unavailable for large numbers of people. Why is this?

South Africa does not currently examine patent applications to see if they meet our criteria for what deserves a patent. As a result, South Africa grants numerous patents that fail to meet the country’s patent standards. A study by the University of Pretoria estimated that around 80% of the patents granted in the country do not meet the country’s patent standards. 

When more than one company makes a medicine then the price drops because the companies must compete to sell their product to the public. However, when a product is under patent, there is no competition and the price stays high. In fact, the company who holds the patent can charge whatever price they want for the 20 year patent period. This is one of the main reasons why many medicines are so expensive.  

The aim of the Fix the Patent Laws campaign is to reform South Africa’s outdated patent laws so that access to medicines is not unnecessarily limited. There are a number of legal safeguards (TRIPS flexibilities) available in international law that have not yet been written into South Africa’s national laws. Section 27 of the Constitution of South Africa obligates the state to implement such law reforms. You can read more about the campaign in our activist guide here. 

Picture: Mutiny Media