The subject of the proposal, a “Campaign to Prevent Damage to Innovation from the Proposed Draft National IP Policy in South Africa,” is a response to the South African government’s Draft National Policy on Intellectual Property. South Africa’s “IP” draft policy, released in September, was years in the making and intended, at least in part, to tighten criteria that had allowed patents to be extended repeatedly without substantive change to formulas. Loose criteria, the policy drafters found, had kept life-saving drugs expensive and inaccessible for much of South Africa’s population. The IP draft policy was greeted by health organizations that included South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign and the international Médecins Sans Frontières as a positive, if long overdue, step toward patent law reform, and the affordability of essential medicines. But, the proposal for a campaign against the draft policy prepared by Public Affairs Engagement in Arlington, VA, for U.S.-based PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), and the South Africa-based IPASA (Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa) sees it differently. PAE’s proposal says a central message in the campaign against it should stress the danger of rushing into a new policy, and the need to “slow down.”
Among the problems with the draft policy, according to the proposal? It “states ominously that IP protections ‘must not contradict public health policies,” the proposal says. The draft policy, the proposal warns, “may also provide the model for other developing nations, inside and outside Africa, including such important aspiring economies such as India and Brazil.”
Here’s where the small world part comes in. In response to the South African government’s policy draft, the proposal outlines a campaign to be launched by “a new alliance with a name such as “Forward South Africa [FSA] by March.” Forward South Africa “will be directed by staff from Public Affairs Engagement,” (click to see the company’s location) and, at the same time, “will be led by a visible South African, most likely a respected former government official, business leader or academic.” The U.S.-public-relations-firm-directed/South-African-led alliance would “Make the intellectual connection between wealth and health — and the critical role of strong IP in encouraging wealth — in an academic paper commissioned by independent institutions and funded by FSA,” the proposal says, “A key part of our strategy is applying pressure from outside South Africa, and PAE is well-staffed in Europe,” it continues. The proposal offers “a full-time public affairs specialist from Washington or Brussels to Johannesburg to handle coordination and execution of the project. In addition, Ambassador Glassman and other DC-based executives will spend time in South Africa.” James K. Glassman, the firm’s chairman and Chief Executive Officer, recently completed four years as founding executive of the George W. Bush Institute, and served as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for 11 years, according to the proposal. The firm’s home page explains its public relation strategy this way: “If You’re Explaining, You’re Losing.” It says, “As communication experts, PAE can provide the counseling and guidance you need to clearly state your message, control the story and be on the communications offense.”
South Africa’s Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi is offended. In fact, according to the Mail and Guardian, he is “incandescent with anger.” Among his takes on the proposal: “This is using South Africa as an entry point, but this is an attack on Brazil, an attack on India . . . an attack on China, Russia and the whole developing world.” He also calls the proposal “a plan for genocide.”
Médecins Sans Frontières and Treatment Action Campaign, which the PAE proposal notes “not surprisingly” praised the South Africa IP policy draft also have responded, with MSF’s comments including “To have foreign companies spending R6m to dissuade government from pushing legislation that promotes access to more affordable medicines is outrageous,” and TAC expressing outrage “over what appears to be a covert and well-funded plan from the foreign pharmaceutical industry to delay an essential law reform process in South Africa.”
IPASA and PhRMA each have issued statements saying they haven’t actually engaged a firm, and support the “broad objectives” of the South Africa IP draft policy. The IPASA statement, which is online, also says “PAE submitted a proposal for a campaign, which was reviewed and subsequently rejected by IPASA members, and no payment or pledge has been made in any respect.” Highlighting what a small world this is, the statement from the Washington, DC-based PhRMA includes: “While we have not at this time engaged outside parties to assist us, we will do our best to make sure that our voice and others who believe that strong intellectual property protections are in the best interest of South Africa are part of the dialogue.”
PAE sent the following statement to Science Speaks:
“Public Affairs Engagement, LLC, a public affairs firm based in Arlington, Va., a suburb of Washington, DC, specializes in education campaigns on important public-policy issues around the world. PAE¹s chairman, Ambassador James K. Glassman, is the former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and has extensive experience in Africa and in matters involving technology and intellectual property.
When Ambassador Glassman learned in September of the proposed IP policy in South Africa, he contacted potential clients. As of today, PAE has not been engaged by any client for an education campaign in South Africa.
“South Africa deserves a thorough and open discussion of intellectual-property policy,” said Ambassador Glassman. “Bad policy will harm investment and innovation. Good policy will unleash the imagination of a great people. Strong intellectual property environments have proven their value time and again. Good IP policy is crucial to enhancing prosperity and social well-being in Africa and around the world.”