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Developing Drugs for Developing World Diseases: The Role of Patents


The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the issue of patents for medicines (in particular vaccines in the case of Covid) to the fore.From the debate surrounding enhancing distribution of Covid vaccines in the developing world by implementing a patent waiver, it is clear that the oft-heard argument that intellectual property to protect such vital products is inherently "a bad thing" is overly simplistic.

How can intellectual property best be used to ensure that the medical needs of those in developing countries are met?

Some argue that intellectual property and patents in particular are the root of all evil, and therefore the solution lies in getting rid of all patent protection.Others argue that patent protection is the answer and therefore that more and stronger patent protection will provide the solution.Pharmaceutical companies argue that if there is no patent protection then there would be no research and development for developing world diseases at all, and that tampering with the patent system could be counterproductive and illegitimate.

The truth probably lies somewhere between these extreme positions.Many of the problems of access to medicines exist despite intellectual property protection, not because of it.It is not necessarily a question of whether patents help, but how they can help.

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