As a country dealing with a pending WTO accession procedures, Ethiopia is required / expected to go through different legal reforms in order to have WTO-compliant domestic laws. Inter alia, the country specifically needs to review its intellectual property laws to provide a protection for intellectual properties as envisaged under the rule of WTO. However, adopting WTO-compliant rules to protect intellectual property, especially patent, exhibits a cross-road of patent protection and access to patented invention such as pharmaceuticals. It is logical to think that strong patent protection highly challenges an eased public access to the patented invention since the very nature of patent provides a stronger exclusive right to the right holder. To systematically deal with the issue of balancing patent protection to right holders and access to medicine to the public, different countries successfully reformed their laws to facilitate access to medicine while still adhering to WTO’s rules on patent. Thus, scrutinizing areas of reforms under Ethiopian patent law, in order to facilitate access to medicine before joining WTO, would help the country to adopt WTO-compliant rules which exhaustively addresses / exploits all exceptions, flexibilities and legal loopholes available to facilitate access to medicine.
Part One - Introductory Remarks
Before rushing into examining or establishing the details of Ethiopian patent law with regard to its role on facilitating access to pharmaceuticals, it would be helpful to shortly point out the relationship between patent and access to patented innovations in general. Lately, literatures seem to show / define that intellectual properties, especially patentable innovations, and public demand to access patented inventions, as two competing interest (“Monopoly” and “Access”) which hinges on a balance.