Lita Nelsen


Universities that attempt to use patents arising from academic research to make medical treatments available in developing countries are caught in a paradox of the patent system. Simply put, if all the medicines and vaccines needed in developing countries existed today, one would wish the patent system to disappear. The absence of patents on medicines and vaccines would presumably allow maximum competition and drive prices down, thereby maximizing affordability and availability.

In reality, adequate treatments and preventatives do not exist for many diseases common to the developing world. If one wishes to encourage industry to use its skills and resources in the discovery, development, testing, quality control, and distribution of new drugs and vaccines, patent protection may be necessary to provide the incentive for industrial participation. Few, if any, companies will start on the long trail of new drug discovery and development unless they can depend on patent protection from competition should a drug prove successful. Thus, we come to the conclusion that patents are neither inherently bad nor inherently good for this purpose. Like all tools, they must be used wisely.