Finland Defies US on Pharmaceutical Bill

The United States repeatedly pleaded with the Finnish Parliament not to pass a proposed bill dealing with generic substitution* for pharmaceutical products, and thus more or less directly with patents. The appeals were made to the Foreign Affairs Committee during and after their visit last week to the U.S.

The committee chairman, Pertti Salolainen, speculated that passing the bill expanding generic substitution might have “severe” consequences for mutual trade relations, not just in the field of pharmaceuticals but high-tech industries in general. Finland might end up on USA’s 301 Watch List, the so-called “black list.” The possible consequences of such a move are impossible to predict, but Salolainen referred to the fate of ongoing and upcoming arms acquisitions as an example.

The bill is due to be voted on this Tuesday afternoon, and if passed successfully it would expand the substitution practice to medicines under a “analogy method patent.” Patents like this were given up until 1995 to pharmaceutical drugs involving some level of innovation–some of the patents aren’t due to expire until 2019.

During the Foreign Affairs Committee’s visit to the U.S., the representative from the host country’s State Department raised the issue of generic substitution as the only bilateral problem between the two countries, beseeching Finland to reject the proposed expansion. Additionally, upon his return Salolainen found a letter on his desk from the Republican Senator Richard Lugar containing the same appeal. Earlier on, the U.S. ambassador to Finland had made similar approaches, and even the Foreign Affairs Committee itself had criticized the bill in October on the grounds of adverse trade policy effects. It suggested that a transition time be implemented as many of the patents expire in the near future anyway. The Social Welfare and Health Committee responsible for the bill’s preparation decided, however, to ignore this criticism as well as the suggestion.

N.B. Since the article’s publication the bill was voted on and subsequently passed.

*Translator’s note: generic substitution= a practice whereby pharmacies are obligated to offer the client a cheaper, generic version of a prescribed drug, should one be available

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