In a framework for policy, the department notes and recommends, among other things, that:
* Provision should be made for the compulsory licensing of crucial drugs at the lower of two typical rates of payment. This would allow the state to assign the right to make a drug to a third party with only limited compensation to the owner;
* Provision should be made for the parallel importation of drugs. This denies drug companies the opportunity to charge more for a drug in South African than elsewhere in the world because it could be imported from the lower-price territory, whether the patent owner approved or not;
* Patents for drugs should be conditional on an examination to ensure that the drug is new or innovative, and should not be automatically granted;
* Generally, "patent flexibility" for medicine should be made a matter of law;
* The holders of intellectual property rights, such as drug companies, should be encouraged to protect their own rights rather than depending on state institutions, such as the police or customs, to do so; and
* South Africa should seek to influence the region, and the world, to move towards its vision of intellectual property protection.
The draft does not yet have any status as policy, and was open for public comment. To what extent those comments, including submissions from pharmaceutical companies, may sway the department is not yet known. The department was this week still processing responses.
But the local subsidiaries of drug companies are taking no chances on that score.
"Without a vigorous campaign, opponents of strong IP will prevail," wrote the American lobbyists hired to launch a countercampaign, "not just in South Africa, but eventually in much of the rest of the developing world."