About Intellectual Property IP Training IP Outreach IP for… IP and... IP in... Patent & Technology Information Trademark Information Industrial Design Information Geographical Indication Information Plant Variety Information (UPOV) IP Laws, Treaties & Judgements IP Resources IP Reports Patent Protection Trademark Protection Industrial Design Protection Geographical Indication Protection Plant Variety Protection (UPOV) IP Dispute Resolution IP Office Business Solutions Paying for IP Services Negotiation & Decision-Making Development Cooperation Innovation Support Public-Private Partnerships The Organization Working with WIPO Accountability Patents Trademarks Industrial Designs Geographical Indications Copyright Trade Secrets WIPO Academy Workshops & Seminars World IP Day WIPO Magazine Raising Awareness Case Studies & Success Stories IP News WIPO Awards Business Universities Indigenous Peoples Judiciaries Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions Economics Gender Equality Global Health Climate Change Competition Policy Sustainable Development Goals Enforcement Frontier Technologies Mobile Applications Sports Tourism PATENTSCOPE Patent Analytics International Patent Classification ARDI – Research for Innovation ASPI – Specialized Patent Information Global Brand Database Madrid Monitor Article 6ter Express Database Nice Classification Vienna Classification Global Design Database International Designs Bulletin Hague Express Database Locarno Classification Lisbon Express Database Global Brand Database for GIs PLUTO Plant Variety Database GENIE Database WIPO-Administered Treaties WIPO Lex - IP Laws, Treaties & Judgments WIPO Standards IP Statistics WIPO Pearl (Terminology) WIPO Publications Country IP Profiles WIPO Knowledge Center WIPO Technology Trends Global Innovation Index World Intellectual Property Report PCT – The International Patent System ePCT Budapest – The International Microorganism Deposit System Madrid – The International Trademark System eMadrid Article 6ter (armorial bearings, flags, state emblems) Hague – The International Design System eHague Lisbon – The International System of Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications eLisbon UPOV PRISMA Mediation Arbitration Expert Determination Domain Name Disputes Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) Digital Access Service (DAS) WIPO Pay Current Account at WIPO WIPO Assemblies Standing Committees Calendar of Meetings WIPO Official Documents Development Agenda Technical Assistance IP Training Institutions COVID-19 Support National IP Strategies Policy & Legislative Advice Cooperation Hub Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISC) Technology Transfer Inventor Assistance Program WIPO GREEN WIPO's Pat-INFORMED Accessible Books Consortium WIPO for Creators WIPO ALERT Member States Observers Director General Activities by Unit External Offices Job Vacancies Procurement Results & Budget Financial Reporting Oversight

Public Health and Patents


Although scientific and technological innovation has contributed to significant improvements in health conditions, health crises, relating, in particular, to HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and, most recently, avian influenza, continue to create major problems in many parts of the world. In various national and international fora, solutions are sought in respect of the role of patents in pharmaceutical innovation and fair and affordable access to health care.

The patent system is designed to promote innovation and, at the same time, offer a mechanism ensuring that the fruits of that innovation are accessible to society. In the contexts of public health, the challenge for policy makers is to find an optimal balance between the rights of patent owners, who provide technological innovations to improve health conditions, and the needs of the general public.

In general, the development of new drugs requires heavy investment and long-term research, coupled with expensive clinical trials and regulatory approval procedures. The exclusive right conferred by a patent is one of the incentives for developers of new drugs to make the necessary investments into that research. Clearing issues, such as ownership and licensing policies for innovation derived from public research, would contribute to the promotion of a more effective deployment of public funds and public R&D programs. At the same time, the patent system also contributes to society by making available patent information, which is freely available to other researchers to further improve existing technologies. With a view to facilitating commercialization and ensuring access to patented technologies, the patent system is primarily based on conferring an exclusive right, in conjunction with a voluntary licensing mechanism. However, taking into account the public interest and policy objectives beyond the patent system, there are a number of flexible mechanisms built in the patent system, such as the possibility of issuing compulsory licenses, research exceptions and parallel imports.

On the other hand, some consider that the current patent system does not adequately address public health crises. It is argued that the commercial incentives provided by the patent system are not sufficient to ensure the development of new products in certain areas, for example, in respect of neglected diseases, and that patent rights, which are enforced on the basis of commercial and market-based considerations, prevent access to, or increase prices of, essential medicines. Some criticize that the safeguard mechanisms built in the patent system, such as compulsory licenses or research exceptions, are not sufficiently broad to cover existing needs. Further, the number and, at times, the broad scope of patents granted in the field of early fundamental research have raised concerns about patent thickets and royalty stacking. In particular, reach-through claims in respect of research tools are considered a potential obstacle to further research and development.


Related Sites

World Intellectual Property Organization


Member States


Other International Organizations


Non-Governmental Organizations