Under a new policy released by the Australian Government on 22 March 2011 (see media release here), those in developing countries will soon be able to access medicines which are the subject of Australian patent protection at more affordable prices. The proposed policy involves a compulsory licensing scheme and is responsive to an international agreement on public health which Australia has signed with the World Trade Organisation.
Under the proposal, legislative amendments will be introduced to allow the Federal Court to grant compulsory licences for the manufacture and export of patented pharmaceutical products to overseas countries that are in need of access to pharmaceuticals (to deal with epidemics and other health crises).
While the humanitarian objectives of the policy are clear, the proposed compulsory licence scheme importantly also provides a mechanism for patent rights holders to be compensated. In his Senator Carr indicates, in his media release, that this issue will be addressed when the policy is implemented.
The Government also seems to be pretty determined to ensure that medicines supplied under a compulsory licence reach the people who need them and are not diverted into other markets.
It looks as though the new policy will be implemented by the end of 2011.