Striking a Balance: Patents and Access to Drugs and Health Care

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Summary by EURACTIV


Access to Health: the role of Intellectual Property rights

In this article, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized UN agency mandated with managing intellectual property (IP) issues and standards on an international level, lists some of the most common “myths” ans misconceptions concerning the role of the patent system in ensuring a fair and affordable access to health care for all, and offers a reply:

  • “Problems in access to health care and the availability of life-saving drugs are primarily due to the patent system.”

    Patents are only one of many factors that influence access to health. 95% of the drugs on the WHO’s Essential Drug List do not even fall under patent protection. Often “off patent” drugs remain unavailable or unaffordable because of socio-economic factors.
  • “High drug costs are primarily due to the patent system, which allows companies to keep prices artificially inflated.”

    The price of drugs depends on a wide variety of factors, including the cost of R&D, production, distribution and marketing. The actual market price of drugs is often marginal to the problem of access to drugs.
  • “The patent system favors corporate interests over the greater social good.”

    Patents are essential in stimulating the development of drugs, as they offer incentives for investing in expensive, long-term R&D. In return for patent protection, the patent system requires adequate disclosure of information about new inventions which would otherwise remain secret proprietary information. This technology transfer is important to promote and further help R&D: medical researchers rely heavily on previous work in developing better drugs.
  • “The patent system deters sound competition.”

    In granting a patent, the government gives exclusive rights to the patent owner for a limited time to decide who may use the patented invention. During that period, anyone can obtain a patent on an improved invention. When the patent expires, the invention enters into the public domain and anyone can freely use or reproduce it. This way, the system allows new entrants to compete against existing patent holders.
  • “The patent system is especially unfair to developing countries, which face difficult social and economic circumstances and should be exempt from international intellectual property requirements, especially in the case of patent protection for certain drugs.”

    An adequate patent system, effectively administered, can: stimulate domestic innovation, foster new industries, create jobs, and attract foreign investment. It can also help countries develop and strengthen their own research infrastructures. It is a key factor in sustained economic development and ultimately helps break the cycle of poverty.
  • “International treaties concerning patent protection interfere with the basic human right to life-saving drugs.”

    Both the right of individuals to enjoy the financial and moral benefits as a creator of intellectual property, and the right of all human beings to adequate health and medical care, are set forth in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. They are complimentary, not contradictory, because the former rights afford the enjoyment of the latter rights.

For the full article see:“Striking a Balance: Patents and Access to Drugs and Health Care”.  

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