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Trilateral cooperation on intellectual property and public health

Three international organizations, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), are strengthening their cooperation on the interface between intellectual property and public health as part of increasing international efforts to improve the ability of the world’s poor to have access to medicines and to ensure the availability of new and more effective medicines.

International efforts to promote access to medicines have increased since the beginning of the century. To ensure policy coherence, the three Secretariats have responded by strengthening their trilateral cooperation with a view to fostering a better understanding of the linkage between public health and intellectual property policies and to enhance a mutually supportive implementation of those policies. They are working together more closely so that each can fulfil its own mandate more effectively, their initiatives support each other, efforts are not duplicated, and resources are used efficiently, for example in technical assistance.

The three organizations have their own distinct, but complementary, mandates to work on issues relating to public health, innovation and intellectual property:

  • The WHO has a mandate to work on the interface between public health, trade and intellectual property, based on and renewed by a large number of Resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly since 1996. In particular, the 2008 Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property has reaffirmed and broadened WHO's mandate, to encourage and support the application and management of intellectual property in a manner that maximizes health-related innovation, protects public health and promotes access to medicines for all. Its implementation is led by the WHO, in close collaboration with national governments and relevant international organizations, including WIPO and the WTO. The WHO provides technical and policy advice to its member states upon request and takes an active part in capacity building activities. > More information.
  • Guided by the recommendations of the Development Agenda, adopted by its General Assemblies in 2007, WIPO cooperates closely with other UN agencies and intergovernmental organizations to inform the debate on global public health challenges.  WIPO provides neutral and fact‑based information and links its technical capacities, such as in the field of patent information or IP infrastructure, to the health policy dialogue. The aim is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the IP system and to support an inclusive and informed debate on the benefits and limitations of the IP system in meeting public health challenges.  WIPO has a wide range of specialized programmes of technical and legal assistance for developing countries. > More information.
  • The WTO’s work on access to medicines and on intellectual property issues relating to public health has been guided especially by the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and subsequent instruments pursuant to instructions given by Ministers in its paragraph 6. WTO's activities include technical cooperation programmes related to TRIPS and public health, discussions in the TRIPS Council on relevant TRIPS provisions and their link with public health programmes, and specific measures to promote access to medicines. These include implementing added flexibilities for public health in the TRIPS Agreement, such as the “Paragraph 6” mechanism for countries with limited or no manufacturing capacity for medicines. > More information.

The first concrete result of the trilateral cooperation on IP and public health has been a set of joint activities. These build upon each of the three organizations’ specific mandates and programmes of activities, but leave the mandates themselves unchanged.

You can find below information on the activities that the three organizations are undertaking jointly, and material from past activities. It is also a gateway to selected capacity building and background material.

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Joint Technical Symposiums on Current Policy Issues

  • Symposium on "Public Health, Intellectual Property, and TRIPS at 20: Innovation and Access to Medicines; Learning from the Past, Illuminating the Future", Geneva, 28 October 2015
    DG Speech
  • WHO-WIPO-WTO joint technical symposium on ‘Medical Innovation — Changing Business Models’, 5 July 2013
    Programme (opens in new window)

Other information resources to support policy dialogue   back to top

  • Trilateral study on “Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade ” (2013)  

    This book is the first ever joint study by the WHO, WIPO and WTO, part of their collaboration on health, intellectual property, and trade. Its focus is on advancing medical and health technologies (“innovation”) and ensuring they reach the people who need them (“accessibility”). A huge amount of analytical and factual material is available on access to medicines and other medical technologies, and on innovation. Here, it is brought together in one concise volume.

    The book is designed to support governments and others — particularly in developing countries — who face an increasing demand to act, when governments want to increase access to effective treatments while containing costs. The underlying theme is: policies on these issues have to be viewed together in order to make real progress.
    News story
    Get the book: www.wto.org/trilateralstudy2013
    (Archived preview)
  • Joint study by the WHO and the WTO Secretariats on “WTO Agreements & Public Health” (2002)
    This study deals with the relevant WTO Agreements and the way they may influence health and health policies. In undertaking this joint study, the WHO and WTO Secretariats seek to examine the linkages between trade and health policies, so as to enable both trade and health officials to better understand and monitor the effect of these linkages.

Capacity Building and Technical Cooperation Activities