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WTO TRIPS Agreement

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The TRIPS agreement is an overarching framework for a multilateral approach to intellectual property rights (IPR), in force since 1996. TRIPS means that use of plants, micro-organisms, biotechnological techniques, food and essential drugs can be restricted under patent protection. This has serious implications for poor people who may have depended on their rights to particular plants or substances. This briefing paper describes four key issues in the IPR debate as it affects poor women. Firstly TRIPS may reduce access to affordable medicines as patents on drugs are bought by pharmaceutical companies. This is particularly relevant to women who may be more vulnerable to ill-health and more likely to take on the burden of caring for the sick. Secondly, it may restrict access to seeds for food production, food security and adequate nutrition. Thirdly, it may affect poor women's control over land and the technology needed to improve productivity. Finally TRIPS does not include recognition and compensation for traditional and local knowledge, which is often more the domain of women than of men. A one page check list is provided to facilitate a more gender sensitive approach to IPR.