Why is South Africa not interested in compulsory licences?


Marco Vatta

Why is South Africa not interested in compulsory licences?

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Despite options at its disposal and large-scale health crises, the South African government has chosen not to go down the compulsory licensing route, as Marco Vatta of Spoor & Fisher explains.

Under the South African Patents Act 57 of 1978, the South African government is able to acquire or make use of a patent. However, the government has never made use of these provisions in order to free itself from the limited monopoly granted to a patentee, despite the challenges the country has faced in the area of medicine such as during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 2000s when the HIV/AIDS epidemic accelerated. In 2018, there were approximately 7.7 million people now living with the virus in the country. 

South Africa, as is the rest of the world, is again faced with a crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. It will be interesting to see what action, if any, the South African government will take in acquiring or using a patent for technology or medication that may alleviate the pressures the country is faced with in light of the pandemic.  

South Africa and other developing countries are unable to keep up with the high demand for personal protective equipment, hospital beds, testing kits, reagents and ventilators during the pandemic. At the beginning of June 2020, the country had a backlog of 100,000 tests waiting to be processed, with pressure mounting on public laboratories. 

South Africa, compulsory licensing, Cyril Ramaphosa, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, HIV, AIDS, pandemic, virus