The case of Plumpy’Nut is one of the most devilishly complex IPR cases one is ever likely to run into. The ethics are mind-bogglingly difficult. The technical details are at least as complex — few people have looked specifically at how the African patent system enables this type of behavior. Much of the initial research was done in 2012 and published on the now-defunct Project Troglodyte page. It is being updated and reorganized here. More on similar subjects: Dangerous Patents.
Aug 25, 2014. Plumpy’Nut, part 1: The basic facts. An ethically tortuous case about Nutriset and its Plumpy’Nut product, a ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) used to treat people in famine conditions. One single patent, valid until 2017, is causing serious controversy. Should anyone be able to patent something that is so critical to life? [JM]
Aug 26, 2014. Plumpy’Nut part 2: The ethics. “It sounds controversial, but what is intriguing about this case is that things could be significantly worse. Compared to the extremes that the law would allow it to do, Nutriset is behaving somewhat decently.”
Aug 27, 2014. Plumpy’Nut, part 3: What could a truly evil company do? “If someone wanted to be truly evil with this patent, could they start a “Kill the Children” campaign, as I have outlined in Trolling on the Human Rights?”
Aug 28, 2014. Plumpy’Nut, Part 4: What do we really know? “Perhaps Nutriset could have saved more lives by freeing the license on Plumpy’Nut. But how does one actually measure something like this? Is it even true?”
Sep4, 2014. Plumpy’Nut Part 5: Why Africa is vulnerable. Going deeper into the system-level issues. Is there anything about the African patent system that would make it particularly vulnerable to cases like Plumpy’Nut? “Africa does have a patent system on paper; but whether that system actually works is a separate question altogether.”
Sep 9, 2014. Plumpy’Nut part 6: Is there any country in Africa which is OK? Analyzing one country in sub-Saharan Africa which seems to have IPR under control: South Africa. Does it actually have it under control?
Sep 10, 2014. Plumpy’Nut Part 7: What is the African reality? “The risks of this system should be obvious. In the worst case, any foreign company can file whatever they want, and it will be granted. If there is a conflict with a smaller local company, the foreigners can bring in their lawyers.”
Sep 11, 2014. Plumpy’Nut 8: Final thoughts. Drawing it all together. “Loose patent processes at the African end allow large areas of Africa to be covered with minimal work; treaty shopping allows multinationals a simple way to find good ways to tap into those processes. The combination does not sound good.”
Aug 07, 2012. Trolling on the human rights. As background: a dystopian view on how IPR could be used to trample on basic human rights. Perhaps overly cynical, but it sets the mood for the rest of the series. [JM]