Although consumer advocates are celebrating the declaration on intellectual property rights and public health that was adopted by World Trade Organization members last week, the victory looks to be mostly symbolic. Thus while the initial reaction of pharmaceutical industry representatives in Doha, Qatar, was glum, upon reflection industry watchers are concluding that pharma dodged a bullet.

The declaration does not fundamentally alter the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), but instead interprets TRIPS in language intended to provide cover for the use of compulsory licensing of drugs by developing nations to address pressing health needs.