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Experts warn of loophole in NCPO’s order on cannabis

Jan 29. 2019
File photo // EPA-EFE PHOTO
File photo // EPA-EFE PHOTO
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Pharma giants can have suspension reversed once narcotics law enforced.

EXPERTS HAVE warned that despite the junta using special powers to unlock issues related to patent applications, Thailand still faces the risk of transnational pharmaceutical giants monopolising the cannabis medical market.

However, Sontirat Sontijirawong, who stepped down as commerce minister yesterday, has been insisting that he has instructed the Intellectual Property Department (IPD) to strictly follow the orders issued by the ruling National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO). 

He also said new guidelines for the registration of patents would clear all ambiguities in the approval process and also encourage medical cannabis-related research and development in Thailand. 

On Monday, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha issued NCPO Order 1/2562 authorising the IPD to suspend seven remaining problematic cannabis medicine patent applications in a move to settle the patent controversy.

However, patent experts from BioThai Foundation and Rangsit University warned yesterday that this order contained a loophole that could easily reverse the suspension and allow big pharmaceutical firms to monopolise the medical-cannabis market.

New guidelines provided

Panthep Phuaphongphan, dean of Rangsit University’s Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Ageing, explained yesterday that the NCPO order did not suspend patent applications, but instead provided guidelines that the IPD had to follow when deciding to put an application on hold.

IPD director-general Thosapone Dansuputra is now authorised to act on these patent applications and decide whether any of them should be dropped altogether or just have some privileges revoked, he |said. Also, he said, the public should keep a close eye on the IPD’s decision.

“The order states that since the use of cannabis is illegal under the current law, the patent registration for cannabis medicines will be prohibited. 

“But once the new law legalising medical cannabis is enforced, the embargo on patent registration will be lifted,” he said. 

“This means that once medical cannabis is legalised, pharmaceutical giants can legally seek to patent their cannabis-related drug formulae, and if their applications are approved, they can exert control over the country’s cannabis medicine market.” 

Short time

Panthep pointed out that since the government has already submitted the new law for His Majesty’s signature, it should be enforced in no more than 90 days. 

Also, the NCPO order, which was issued on Monday, gives the IPD 90 days to make a decision on the patent applications, while the companies who filed these applications have 60 days to appeal the decision. 

If the IPD does not take swift action and suspend the problematic applications before the new law is enforced, these companies can fight back, saying their patent applications are no longer illegal and ask for the suspension to be reversed, he cautioned. 

“Hence, if the IPD insists on keeping the interests of big conglomerates, then the premier should dismiss the department’s director-general and replace him with someone who is willing to protect national interest,” Panthep said. 

“The government should also add another clause to the NCPO order to ensure illegal patent applications are suspended.” 

He added that people who rely on underground cannabis-based medication will end up having to pay a lot more if these pharmaceutical giants take control of the medical cannabis supply in the country, while those who want to continue using traditional medicines could face intellectual property infringement charges. 

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