A recent report in the British Medical Journal has claimed that counterfeit drugs seriously jeopardize public health in developing nations. Florida readers can see this as a real-life example of how intellectual property can be a very crucial component of society.

The report claims that up to a third of malaria drugs distributed in developing nations are counterfeit and that as many as one out of every 10 drug products used in the Third World are imitations.

Now, generic versions of medications are not a problem in the U.S. In fact, we welcome them because of their low cost.

But poorer countries do not have the USDA, FDA and other supervisory and regulatory agencies. In other words, they don’t have anybody watching to make sure that less scrupulous drug companies are not just distributing snake oil.

So, in a very unregulated market, trademarked brand names are a fairly effective proxy to be sure that a medication is safe and effective.

There has been some criticism of drug companies for not focusing enough on diseases that kill thousands in poorer countries because medications for those diseases are not profitable enough. We are aware of that criticism and think there may be some legitimacy to it.

However, it’s just a fact that companies that can patent their drug formulas, trademark their brands and profit from their products produce medication that has been tested and analyzed – meaning it can reasonably be assumed to be safe and effective — and this report seems to suggest that certain companies that distribute imitation medications in the developing world do not.

Source: BBC News, “Call for crackdown on global medicines,” Michelle Roberts, Nov. 13, 2012