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Chapter 13 Patents and Access to Essential Medicines

Intellectual Property, Growth and Trade

ISBN: 978-0-444-52764-6, eISBN: 978-1-84950-539-0

ISSN: 1574-8715

Publication date: 1 October 2007


The World Health Organization estimated that in 1999 roughly one-third of the world's population lacked access to essential medicines that would have saved or improved their lives. Our analysis focuses on how pharmaceutical product patents restrict access to essential medicines in developing countries. It is well established that pharmaceutical product patents provide little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop new medicines designed to treat diseases prevalent in developing countries or to market in developing countries those patented medicines developed to treat diseases prevalent in developed countries. Economists have developed theoretical models showing that these incentives could be changed if (1) developing countries provided intellectual property protection for new pharmaceutical innovations and (2) an international regulatory framework were established to facilitate pharmaceutical companies setting lower prices in developing countries and higher prices in developed countries for patented medicines. We develop an index of property rights in pharmaceutical innovations covering 129 countries from 1960 to 2005. It shows that in 1960 only a handful of countries provided significant protection for pharmaceutical innovations, but by 2005 over 95 percent of countries in our sample provided significant statutory protections. However, an international framework to allow pharmaceutical companies to price discriminate has not been put in place. We conclude that international price discrimination mechanisms, compulsory patent licenses, and regional patent buyouts are not viable mechanisms for providing access to essential medicines to patients in developing countries. Global patent buyouts are more likely to achieve this goal, as they are not founded on an impractical separation of pharmaceutical markets in developing and developed countries and they provide critical incentives to develop new essential medicines.


La Croix, S. and Liu, M. (2007), "Chapter 13 Patents and Access to Essential Medicines", Maskus, K.E. (Ed.) Intellectual Property, Growth and Trade (Frontiers of Economics and Globalization, Vol. 2), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 423-464.



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