Susan Scafidi


Intellectual property rights carry significant implications for world health. In 1994, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) placed pharmaceuticals among the forms of technology that constitute patentable subject matter. Over the past ten years, nongovernmental organizations, governments, and international institutions have increasingly acknowledged that this mandated inclusion influences the availability of new drugs, at least within the member nations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The nature of this effect, however, remains open to debate. Whether pharmaceutical patents provide financial incentives that support private research and development, as the industry attests, or allow monopoly pricing and production that hinder the ability of poor nations to address health crises, such patents have become an unavoidable feature of global medicine. The TRIPS-driven harmonization of intellectual property protection across borders is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.