Day: September 17, 2020

September 2020

Back to school, back to Parliament, back to work!

It’s definitely a bumpy ride with COVID-19, but we here at the Consumer Choice Center have been working very hard over the summer to keep you more connected and with more choices. Let me give you a guided tour of some of our recent work. Buckle up, it’s quite a ride!

European Airport Index: the Winner is Zurich this year!

As the continent is slowly getting back into travel mode, our 2020 edition of Europe’s most passenger-friendly airports could obviously not be missed. This year’s winner is Zurich Airport! I’m sure you’ll want to know where your closest airport is ranked in Europe’s 30 biggest airports, so click HERE to get straight to the research by Fred Roeder and Tamar Tarsaidze.

Let Brazil create!

The CCC has started a new campaign in Brazil to fight for innovation and against scrapping the provisions of Article 40 protecting intellectual property. Our colleagues Fabio Fernandes and Fred Roeder lead the way in showing legislators that legislative proposals are going off the rails, and how they would hurt consumers. For Brazilians, make sure to follow our Brazilian CCC account HERE.

Also related to intellectual property: Together with 11 Members of the European Parliament, we have signed a letter regarding the TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) flexibilities.

Sustainable food is great

We all want sustainable agriculture, but how do we achieve that? My newest policy note on sustainable agriculture is a toolkit for policy-makers, to make them understand how evidence-based policy-making leads to affordable and safe food that does not overuse natural resources. You can read the full paper HERE.

You might also be interested in an op-ed I wrote about the threat to human health posed by mycotoxin contamination in Parliament Magazine.

Fred Roeder made it all the way into Germany’s prestigious FAZ on sustainability and modern agriculture.

Consumer Choice Radio

We also had the great pleasure to host Kathleen Hefferon PhD from the Department of Microbiology at Columbia University on our very own Consumer Choice Radio. In our interview, we tried to make sense of the opposition to evidence-based policy-making.

Flavours matter

Vape flavours are more than just a gimmick — they are essential tools to help smokers make the switch to vaping products if they choose to do so. In their most recent policy note “Why Flavors Matter” (link), David Clement, Yaël Ossowski, joined by Michael Landl from the World Vapers Alliance make their case that restricting flavoured vaping liquids is the wrong way to go.

Read the paper HERE.

Parlo Italiano?

Not all of us do, but either way it’s a bliss to listen to Luca Bertoletti give his take on VAT holders bonuses in Italy. Did the Italian pension office violate the privacy of millions of Italian? Listen to these two interviews to understand more about this!

The California Fight for Freelancers

The Consumer Choice Center has joined a coalition mi to pass Proposition 22 in California (Yes on Prop 22) that would overturn parts of the anti-freelance and anti-contractor AB5 law for rideshare drivers. We’re the only consumer group that has signed up, and you’ll see much more in the coming months as we push to pass this proposition.

In that spirit, my colleague Yaël Ossowski published an op-ed on a similar topic impacting all of us stuck at home: commission caps on delivery apps. A coalition of groups wants cities to intervene in the delivery app market and dictate prices. That’s bad for consumers and means the cost of getting food to your door will be more expensive. Check out his article for more.

Make restaurants fun again

Over 29 per cent of restaurant owners cannot make a profit during COVID-19, with 60 per cent saying they’ll need to shut down within 90 days if the pandemic continues. In his recent op-ed for the Financial Post, David Clement argues for changes that would not only alleviate burdens on restaurant owners, but also on consumers. 

Here’s a snippet: “If we are going to nudge people back to restaurants, let’s make restaurants fun and affordable again. Simple changes could go a long way to avoiding mass restaurant bankruptcies.”

Argentina gets it wrong

“The Argentinian government will finally need to implement pro-free market reforms instead of holding onto socialist policies such as price controls on telecom services.” Our colleague Maria Chaplia didn’t mince her words on Argentina’s planned price freeze telecommunications services. Luca Bertoletti added: “Argentina deserves better than a populist government that pretends to act in the interests of consumers by extending price controls of TV, internet and mobile services at the expense of future prosperity.” It’s FIRE and we like it! 🔥

Let us know if you have any ideas on what we should be focusing on in the future!

Bill Wirtz

Safeguarding IP rights is key to defeating COVID-19

COVID-19 has exposed our unpreparedness for a crisis of global scope. As much as globalisation is partly to blame for the virus’ speedy expansion, it is also thanks to the interconnectedness of our world that we have been able to preserve international trade – despite a bundle of constraints and cries for protectionism – during these tough times. In particular, that has to do with exports of essential medical devices such as masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment. The shortages experienced by many countries have triggered an intergovernmental discussion on the scope of compulsory licencing and IP protection covered by The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 

As a global consumer advocacy group, we at the Consumer Choice Center are hereby sharing our perspective on the matter in the hope to contribute to this timely debate. 

The TRIPS agreement is an integral part of the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property legal base. Among other things, the agreement whose primary aim is to safeguard intellectual property rights, also includes provisions on compulsory licencing, or use of subject matter of a patent without the authorisation of the right holder (Article 31). Essentially, this means that “in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use,” a Member government may allow someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner. 

Whereas, under normal circumstances, the person or company applying for a licence must have first attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain a voluntary licence from the right holder on reasonable commercial terms (Article 31b). However, there is no need to try for a voluntary licence first under TRIPS flexibilities.

TRIPS flexibilities, therefore, allow countries to override global IP rules to mitigate the damage caused by an emergency and have been mainly applied where pharmaceuticals have been concerned. 

In July, South Africa issued a communication titled “Beyond Access to Medicines and Medical Technologies Towards a More Holistic Approach to TRIPS Flexibilities.”  It was pointed out that the COVID-19 response required looking beyond patents towards a more “integrated approach to TRIPS flexibilities that include other various types of intellectual property (IP) rights including copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets” (IP/C/W/666). As such, the recommendations submitted by South Africa are cross-field as they also touch upon the production and distribution of essential medical devices such as masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment.

Though proposed out of the noble motives, South African communication is ignorant of the need to protect IP rights instead of eroding them. Opponents of intellectual property rights often make the mistake of taking innovation for granted thereby turning a blind eye to the driving force of every kind of entrepreneurship: economic incentives. Patents and various other forms of intellectual property are not biased towards the inventor. On the contrary, they ensure that companies can continue to innovate and deliver on their products to consumers. 

The short-term result of eroding intellectual property rights would be increased access to innovations, but in the long-term, there would be no innovation. With the second wave of coronavirus on the way putting brakes on the economic recovery, it is not something we can afford.

In fact, we need to stay as firm as ever in our defence of intellectual property rights if we want to defeat coronavirus and many more diseases. Patients who may one day be diagnosed with incurable diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, or HIV/AIDS should benefit from the chance that a cure will become available, and protecting IP is the only way to give them that chance. If we act boldly now and weaken intellectual property rights even further – and expand the scope of TRIPS flexibilities – we will cause the damage that will be hardly reversible, and the post-pandemic world will have to foot the bill.

As the former Czech Prime Minister, Jan Fischer pointed out, “Patents and other intellectual property protections enshrine the incentives that compel drug companies to take such extraordinary risks. By temporarily barring copycat products, the rules give innovators an opportunity to try and recoup their huge development costs. A substantial portion of the revenues achieved from the sale of those innovative drugs are dedicated to fund new projects, and enable the pursuit of path-breaking R&D in the first place.”

If we want more prosperity for all, we need to protect intellectual property rights. TRIPS flexibilities, and the call to extend their scope beyond patens, in particular, are an attempt to erode IP, and should be seen for what they really are: a threat to our economic recovery from COVID-19 and future innovation.

By Maria Chaplia, European Affairs Associate at the Consumer Choice Center

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