WHO health alarmism and IPR tinkering

Seven years ago, I briefly surveyed the various offices under the UN and I was surprised to see about 100+ different agencies. See UN bureaucracies — too many! (December 20, 2010).

Among the huge and wide UN offices and bureaucracies is the World Health Organization (WHO). On its website, Media Center, News Releases 2017, these stories seem like we are still in the 90s or even the 80s, or the 70s — there are many scary and alarmist stories in public health around the world until now.

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It is already 2018 — when illiteracy is already zero in many developing countries, when smoke signal and animal whistles are no longer used to communicate as hundreds of millions of poor people in developing and emerging countries now use smart phones with access to emails, facebook, twitter, youtube and other social media.

And the WHO and WB still declare that “half the world lack access to essential health services”? That measles “still kills 90,000 per year”?

Going back a few decades ago, the WHO was known for various health alarmism worldwide. Like the HIV/AIDS alarmism in the 80s to 90s and more recently, about NCDs (non-communicable diseases) alarmism.

Then the usual fare of the WHO — blame directly or indirectly IPR and drug patents by innovator pharma and biotech R&D. Also blame free trade and FTAs for expensive medicines.

And I was surprised to see this.

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http://www.who.int/medicines/EB142_13_shortage_and_access_medicines_vaccines.pdf?ua=1

“Global shortage of medicines and vaccines”, wow. Since about 95-99% of WHO’s essential medicines list (EML) are already off-patent, what stops the WHO and member-governments from mass-producing these drugs, directly or indirectly?

The WHO needs to shrink, both in size of bureaucracy and governments’ funding. It has lots of health and economic global central planners that they want to plan-and-control many things and policies, forgetting that it was the private sectors and corporations’ risk-taking that gave the world plenty of life-saving medicines since many decades ago.

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My first article in BusinessWorld, Oct 2007, on IPR

I just rediscovered this image from my old emails a decade ago — my first article in BusinessWorld. Reposting.

BUSINESS WORLD 001
Intellectual Property Rights
BWorld, October 24, 2007, page 5.

Downloading pirated songs from the internet is cool. Dying from counterfeit medicine is not. But the pirates and the slack law enforcement that give you one also give you the other–and there are people who will tell you this is a good thing.

Many governments and humanitarian groups want you to believe that patents and intellectual property rights on medical innovations deprive the poor of important medicines and should be discarded in the name of public health.

But if one’s innovation and invention that produces welfare to society, like producing medicines to cure malaria or cancer, using extracts from the leaves and fruits of the most common fruit tree in a particular country, is not respected, why would some guys innovate in the first place? It is protection of patents that brought those useful drugs into existence, along with millions of other products, wonderful and mundane alike: yielding to the slogan “patients over patents” would hurt poor patients the most by depriving them of new inventions.

Say you are an unknown band, performing in bars. You wrote a few good original compositions and your audiences like them. Suddenly your songs have been recorded and patented by someone else, on albums and CDs, with no mention of you and no royalties. How would you feel?

You are a researcher or academic. You presented a paper to a conference. A few months later, you see a paper published in some magazine or journal that contains most of your paper–your methodology, scientific model, data, results and conclusions. How would you feel?

You are an ordinary inventor. You invented a device that can reduce fuel consumption in diesels by 35% and you’re selling it for a few bucks because you don’t have a wide marketing network, or you don’t have the capacity for mass production. Then, a few months later, your device is patented by someone who is selling it a handsome price, with no mention of you.. How would you feel?

The civil contracts of intellectual property, like deeds to physical property, underpin innovation, creativity and growth, as well as personal and political freedoms. Left-leaning health activists claim that breaking patents would hit multinationals and “Big Pharma” hardest–but these guys are innovators, they can find their way out like investing their money and people into something else, like new cosmetics and perfumes. It’s the poor who will suffer most, from bad products, lack of new effective medicines, and economic stagnation.

And how do the consumers feel when they get these rip-offs? If you buy a pirated book or CD and it turns out to be of bad quality, you only lose your money. But if you buy pirated and bad quality medicine, you can lose your health–even your life.

This year Kenya found 20,000 counterfeit doses of anti-malarial Duo-cotecxin, one of many counterfeits in an uncontrolled market where some 35,000 people die of malaria each year. The fake, probably from China, does not just fail to cure the disease, it can increase drug resistance and make patients worse.

Governments around the world like to play the hero by promising to reduce prices, usually by price controls or patent infringement but never by cutting taxes on goods or service. My older brother, our eldest in the family, died of prostate cancer more than a year ago. His earlier hormonal chemo-theraphy cost around P25,000 per session excluding the physician’s fee. Of that amount, government VAT collection alone was P3,000 per session. After several sessions, he did not get well. He was later given chemo that cost P90,000 per treatment, of which government’s VAT was nearly P11,000 per session. The import tax, corporate income tax, business permit and other related taxes not included yet.

If a government wants to bring down the price of medicines, rice, clothing, fertilizers, farm tractors, or any commodity essential to life and economic growth, the first thing would be to drastically cut, if not abolish, the import duties and direct taxes that hit the poor hardest.

So the next time your government blames foreign companies or international rules for high prices, find out what taxes and covert barriers it is hiding from you–and shout the truth out loud.

On plain packaging, from For free choice

Short but direct arguments, I like this article, reposting.

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The failure of the plain package
http://www.forfreechoice.org/freedomofchoice/the-failure-of-the-plain-package/

The Australian plain packaging legislation was implemented in December 2012. Since then, trademarks, logos, non-prescribed colors and graphics have been removed from packs. But 5 years later, there is no evidence that plain packaging has achieved (or is likely to achieve) any public health benefits.

The Australian plain packaging legislation was implemented in December 2012. Since then, branding on tobacco packaging has been banned. Trademarks, logos, non-prescribed colors and graphics have been removed from packs, and only the use of a brand name in a prescribed font and size is allowed.

The tobacco control lobby claims that plain packaging is likely to lead to improvements in public health at no cost to anyone but the tobacco industry. But:

  • There is no evidence that plain packaging has achieved (or is likely to achieve) any public health benefits;
  • It is disproportionate, unjustified and unnecessary;
  • It has widespread negative consequences; and
  • It risks breaching legal rights as protected by various laws and treaties.

Consumers do not choose to smoke based on branded cigarette packaging, but consumers do use branding to identify differences between products, including between legal and illegal brands.

Does plain packaging work? It doesn’t.

The Australian government collects data on national smoking behaviour every three years as part of its National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS). The most recent batch of data is from 2016, and reports no statistically significant decline in the overall daily smoking rate between 2013 (12.8%) and 2016 (12.2%). This is the first instance of no decline in 23 years. How can plain packaging be said to work when the smoking rate has not declined following its introduction?

The market share of illegal tobacco increased by nearly 30% within the first two years of plain packaging being implemented in Australia in 2012. Today, the market share of illegal tobacco remains over 20% higher than pre-2012, representing 13.9% of tobacco consumed in Australia and representing approximately $1.6 billion AUD in lost tax revenue to the Australian Government according to the KPMG Report – Illicit Tobacco in Australia – Full Year 2016.

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A government that regulates tobacco appropriately – implementing evidence-based laws that benefit public health while allowing legal industries to compete fairly – protects both the health of its citizens and of its economy. Branding protects our legal economy and tax revenues from criminals.

Plain packaging prevents consumers from differentiating between legal and illegal products, which results in a sharp increase in illegal tobacco and a sharp decline in tax revenues.

Globally, illicit tobacco deprives governments of $40 billion per year.

If Governments are serious about reducing tobacco consumption then it is time to consider alternative evidenced-based measures available to achieve the same public policy objectives, which are less restrictive, more targeted and proportionate.

Tobacco taxation, trademarks and plain packaging

* This is my column in BusinessWorld last November 30, 2017.

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Protection of private property rights — including physical and intellectual — is an important cornerstone of a free society. People can exclusively use, keep, sell, donate or give away their property if they want to.

There is a measurement of property rights protection worldwide being done annually by the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), a Washington DC-based think tank. It produces the annual International Property Rights Index report and partners with independent, nongovernment, and market-oriented think tanks and institutes from many countries. IPRI covers three major areas: (1) Legal and Political Environment, (2) Physical Property Rights (PPR), and (3) Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) that include protection of patents, trademarks and brands, copyrights and trade secrets.

In the IPR of several ASEAN countries, the gap is not very wide between say, Singapore and the Philippines or Indonesia (see table).

IPRScores_113017

Currently, there are IPR issues that are intertwined with taxation issues of some “sin products” like tobacco and alcohol.

In the Philippines, the sin tax law of 2012 or RA 10351 is turning five years old next month. The law has dual purposes of (a) reducing smoking and drinking incidence in the country by raising tobacco and alcohol taxes, and (b) raising more government revenues.

So far, both have been achieved but there are moves and legislative bills to further raise tobacco tax to twice or thrice their current rates.

In December 2012, Australia introduced a variant of this law aimed to further discourage smoking. Its plain packaging law required tobacco companies to remove the brand, trademark, and logos of its tobacco products and replace them with plain packs with graphic warnings.

Since some smokers may be unable to distinguish good brands from new and/or inferior brands, they are supposedly discouraged from stop smoking.

While the goal is good — to protect public health — the means and the policy leaves much to be desired.

Since it is assumed that consumers can no longer distinguish good brands from inferior ones, brand competition is precluded.

As a result, companies will now be forced to compete on the basis of prices alone, allowing players with poor but cheap products to gain advantage and attract more customers.

Which may then defeat the purpose of anti-tobacco initiatives because this may yet increase the incident of smoking.

Five years after introducing its plain packaging scheme, has Australia been able to meet its goal?

The Australian government collects data on national smoking incidence every three years as part of its National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS).

Based on 2016 data — its most recent — there has been no statistically significant decline in the overall daily smoking rate between 2013 (12.8%) and 2016 (12.2%).

So the plain packaging scheme is a failure in Australia.

Moreover, the plain packaging law has unwittingly succeeded in raising the consumption of illegal tobacco, estimated at 13.9% of total consumption in 2016. This results in an estimated excise tax loss of A$1.6 billion for the government last year.

Furthermore, Australia is also facing a dispute resolution panel at the WTO for implementing the law that disrespects IPR laws on trademark and branding.

France and the UK have also introduced the plain packaging scheme in recent years. One unintended result in France is the rise in illicit tobacco coming from some terrorist groups and criminal syndicates while the French government suffered an excise tax loss of approximately €2 billion in 2016. This illicit trade was linked to jihadists traveling to Syria and Iraq and terrorist attacks in France. Counterfeit cigarettes are also among the most investigated IP-crime in the UK and are linked directly to criminal organizations.

In Asia, there are plans to introduce plain packaging legislation in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

This may a dangerous precedent.

Soon, other “sin products” will be targeted — alcohol, sugary drinks and beverages, fatty foods, even toys.

I am a non-smoker and have never been a fan of smoking. I am just a fan of individual liberty and people having the freedom what to do with their own body and life, also a fan of the rule of law and people’s right to private property.

The plain packaging scheme is dangerous because (a) it disrespects private property rights and IPR laws, (b) encourages the production of illicit items from illicit and possibly criminal players who can easily play with price competition, (c) it encourages more consumption because very cheap products with no brands are more easily available, and (d) it reduces government potential excise tax revenues, which might result in creating new taxes elsewhere.

Recent IP developments in some ASEAN countries

Property rights protection of both physical and non-physical/intellectual — trademark/logo, copyright, patent, etc. — is among the cornerstones of dynamic, mature and market-friendly economies. Individuals and enterprises develop new products and services via innovation and they create new value, new wealth for society.

I am reposting some developments on IPR in the ASEAN. Thanks to the Property Rights Alliance (PRA) for the bi-weekly IP updates.
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Intellectual property protection a ‘key element of Thailand 4.0’
The Nation, October 02, 2017

There’s a role for intellectual property protection in the Thailand 4.0 vision and initiative, and the national government’s Intellectual Property Department sees a role for itself promoting innovation through offering increased knowledge sharing and more convenient services.

“We are a key mechanism in protecting new technology and innovation vital to economic development, and we do this by motivating new developments,” said Thosapone Dansuputra, director-general of the department.

Thailand to accede to the Madrid Protocol
Lexology, October 04, 2017

As of November 2017, Thailand will accede to the so-called Madrid Protocol as member no. 99. This entails cost savings compared to previously when trademark proprietors are to register their trademarks in Thailand. The Madrid Protocol is an international system through which trademark proprietors may apply for protection in several countries through one basic registration.

Website blocking in Malaysia has reduced online piracy, says film makers body
The Edge Markets, October 10, 2017

Website blocking in Malaysia has significantly reduced online piracy, with a 74% fall in traffic to pirate websites recorded in the six months after the government initiated its sixth effort to block such sites in June 2016, says the Motion Picture Association (MPA). As pirate websites generate income through advertising revenue, a disruption to their business model can help stop online piracy, said Oliver Walsh, regional director at the Asia-Pacific hub for Motion Picture Association International (MPA-I).

Trademark protection awareness, registration remain low in Laos
XinhuaNet, September 19, 2017

The number of trademark registrations is lagging in Laos as many businesses lack understanding of their rights and fail to register to protect their intellectual property, according to the Intellectual Property (IP) Department under Ministry of Science and Technology on Monday.

Laos Struggling with Trademark Protection
PRA, October 6, 2017

According to a study by the Intellectual Property (IP) Department of the Ministry of Science and Technology, only about 40,500 trademark applications have been filed in the Southeast Asian country since 1991. This is a relatively low number of applications for trademark protections for a country of 7 million and an economy with a GDP of $37.3 billion.

Brunei’s Patent Examination System to Increase Efficiency Through Agreement with Japan
Lexology, October 11, 2017

On August 28, 2017, the Brunei Intellectual Property Office (BruIPO) signed an agreement to introduce a new patent examination initiative – the Patent Prosecution Highway Plus (PPH+) – with the Japan Patent Office (JPO), which commenced on October 1, 2017. Using this PPH+ system, patent prosecution procedures in Brunei are accelerated by allowing BruIPO to reuse the search and examination results of corresponding patent applications filed in Japan – thus reducing examination workload and time, minimizing costs, and improving patent quality.

Property rights, trademarks and consumer protection

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last September 18, 2017.

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Private property rights that people and businesses enjoy are among the cornerstones of a free and dynamic society. People have exclusive rights on what to do with their private properties — use them, sell, rent out, or donate.

However, when rights to private property — both physical and intangible assets — are unprotected, society can quickly degenerate into disorder. As a result, consumers will be unable to recognize which among manufacturers and service providers are trustworthy and which are suspicious.

Measuring the extent of property rights protection across many countries is done annually by the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), a Washington DC-based think tank. It produces the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annually and partners with independent, nongovernment, and market-oriented think tanks and institutes from many countries.

IPRI is derived by getting the score (1 to 10, 10 being the highest) of each country covered in three major areas:

  1. Legal and Political Environment (LP), covers judicial independence, rule of law, control of corruption, and political stability of a country or economy.
  2. Physical Property Rights (PPR), includes registration and protection of physical properties, access to loans.
  3. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), includes protection of patents, trademarks and brand, and copyrights.

Countries with high scores in two or all three of these areas will have a high IPRI overall score and global rank (see table).

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Among the important insights in the above numbers are: One, the more developed the economies are like Singapore and Japan, the higher the IPRI score and global rank. Which implies that as private property is better recognized and protected, there are more economic activities and innovations that occur.

Two, the Philippines experienced some improvement in its global rank, from 77th out of 131 countries in the 2013 report. It rose to 64 out of 127 countries in 2017. Its low score in legal and political environment was compensated by its high score in physical property rights.

One emerging issue in IPR non-protection is plain packaging (PP) of tobacco products purportedly for health reasons. Besides being slapped with high taxes, tobacco products also feature graphic warnings on packaging. Advertising tobacco products have also been restricted and smoking in may areas have been disallowed, which are part of several moves to deter people from lighting up.

These have been tried in many countries but smoking incidence does not seem to significantly decline as people shift to cheaper and often, illegal, illicit products. So the next step is to prohibit the use of a tobacco brand, logo, or trademark. This has been done in Australia and there are plans to introduce legislation in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.

This plan does not appear to be right because a brand or logo of a company represents how effective it is in developing consumer loyalty and service. Imagine also if all ice cream, all soft drinks, all beer, all wine, etc. will simply be labeled as “ice cream,” “soda,” “beer,” etc. with no brand recognition of who produced or manufactured the products.

Or all government departments and agencies (DoH, DoF, DPWH, NEDA, etc.) will lose their logo and will simply have a generic brand “Philippine government,” it would not seem right.

I have never been a smoker nor have I been a fan of smoking but was once a fan of tobacco ads in cycling or in the F1 race. But I will not recommend the scrapping of a brand or trademark of companies in a particular industry. People who hate the companies should attack them as such and they may even use the company brand for their attacks.

Intellectual property rights like medicine patents, song copyrights, company brand or trademarks, play an important role of recognizing efficiency and innovation. Consumers look up to these brands and decide which ones to support and patronize and which ones to reject based on their specific needs and interests.

Governments therefore, should respect and protect these IPRs the same way it should respect and protect physical private properties. Moreover, people own their bodies and not the state nor NGOs.

After rising taxes, health warnings, and business regulations are in place, governments should leave individuals and allow them to seek their own happiness without harming other people.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers, which is a member of EFN Asia and the Property Rights Alliance (PRA).

ALF 2016, Panel on property rights

The 4th Asia Liberty Forum 2016, #AsiaLF16, has successfully ended in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday night. Among the important panel discussions was the one on “Protecting Yourself Against Daylight Robbery — Current Challenges to Property Rights”.

Photo below, holding the microphone is Wan Saiful Wan Jan, CEO of IDEAS Malaysia, who chaired the discussion. The speakers from left:  (1) Lorenzo Montanari of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA; (2) Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute, India; (3) Kriengsak Chareonwongsak of the Institute of Future Studies for Development, Thailand; and (4) Julian Morris of Reason Foundation, USA.

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Lorenzo spoke about the International Property Rights Index (IPRI) annual reports, especially the latest, 2015 Report.

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Barun talked about fighting for property rights of poor rural workers and households in their tilled land in India.

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Julian talked about IPR, especially of trademarks and company branding. His paper title was witty, “Marks vs. Marx”, the former refer to trademarks, the latter refer to IPR confiscation and stealing/socialization.

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Among the slides shown by Julian. An example of a medicine whose products and corporate brand/logo was copied and stolen to sell substandard or fake medicines, which can have serious or even fatal consequences to patients.

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Plain packaging of cigarettes, the logo and brands of Winfield and Marlboro were removed, only their product name is displayed. Further below, when plain packaging is applied on softdrinks/soda and beer.

I don’t smoke, never smoked my entire life, I derive zero pleasure in smoking, but I respect other people’s decision to smoke. It’s their life, their body, they can do whatever they want with their life so long as they do not harm other people, like puffing heavy smoke in an enclosed room with many non-smokers inside.

I think people should not smoke, but if they decide to smoke because they derive some pleasure in smoking — the same way that I derive pleasure in drinking with friends, frequently when I was still a bachelor, and seldom now with a family and 2 young girls — then their freedom to choose which cigarette products or brands to take should not be curtailed by the government.

After all, the government is a huge hypocrite institution that says “promote public health, discourage smoking and drinking” on the left hand, then happily and gleefully collects billions of pesos or dollars of “sin tax” revenues every year from more smokers on the right hand.

Meanwhile, I am thankful again to EFN Asia and FNF regional office for giving me a travel grant to attend the 4th ALF. Thanks Siggi, Pett, Jules.