As Canada-US trade-war draws nigh, so does the threat to nationalise US pharma patents

Last June, U of Ottawa law professor/biomedical scientist Amir Attaran floated the idea of invalidating US pharma patents as a way for Canada to retaliate against trade attacks by the Trump administration.

It's a serious power-move: the US pharma lobby outspends both the military and finance industry, combined, and by targeting their highest-margin drugs, Canada could really put the shits up the industry's all-powerful lobbyists, sending them to DC to demand action to staunch the bleeding (whether that turns out to be normalisation of trade or military invasion is anyone's guess, of course).

Attaran says that allowing Canadian manufacturers to produce generic versions of compounds patented by US giants would be legal under the WTO's TRIPS agreement, which governs patents, trademarks and copyrights.

Attaran said Canada would need to target only a handful of drugs in order to get the deep-pocketed U.S. pharmaceutical lobby to speak up on its behalf. Even that, he said, may not be necessary if Canada becomes the first country to threaten to weaponize drugs patents in a trade war.

"Brazil has done so. Indonesia has done so. Thailand has done so. But these are typically middle-income countries that are looking to save a buck on medicines by circumventing patents. We would be doing it as retaliation rather than public health strategy," Attaran said. "At that point, you would elicit an utter reaction of panic from the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. and its allies in Congress. You probably never would have to do it for real."

Canadian officials are mulling an attack on U.S. pharma, says Ottawa lawyer [Jeff Lagerquist/Yahoo Finance Canada]