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MSF launches patent opposition database to aid pharmaceutical protestors

Health activists who want to challenge patents given to drugs companies have been given a new tool to make the process easier

Médecins Sans Frontières has today launched a database enabling activists to share information and experiences about opposing patents using one central portal.

The unveiling of the Patent Opposition Database comes 10 years after a landmark decision by Thailand's Central Intellectual Property and International Trade Court to overturn the patent on then-key HIV drug didanosine, after a patent opposition was filed by AIDS Access Foundation and three Thai people living with HIV.

The database contains a searchable listing of 45 patent oppositions relating to key medicines and more than 200 other supporting documents that will aid in the building of future patent oppositions.

In particular it provides a simple guide to legislation covering patent opposition and the processes involved in challenging a patent at the pre-grant or post-grant stage.

It also links to copies of opposition documents that have been filed in countries including Brazil, India and Thailand and calls for users to submit prior art documents that activists in other parts of the world can use for their own opposition applications.

“It’s a myth that every patent application that is filed is valid,” said Michelle Childs, Director of Policy Advocacy for MSF’s Access Campaign. “When you look closely, a patent application may fail one or more of the legal tests it needs to pass. The idea behind this database is to help civil society and patient groups stop unwarranted patents from blocking people’s access to more affordable medicines.”

MSF pointed to a number of cases in which patient groups have already challenged pharmaceutical patents. In India, for example, groups successfully challenged a patent application for the HIV fixed-dose-combination zidovudine/lamivudine on the grounds that it was not a new invention, but simply the combination of two existing drugs.

After that, the Cancer Patient Aid Association filed a pre-grant opposition to an application made by Novartis, which was seeking patent protection for the salt form of imatinib, the active ingredient in its cancer-treating drug Glivec. India’s Supreme Court is now considering whether the country’s patent office was right to refuse to grant Novartis a patent.

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