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How Do Patents Affect Public Health?


Patents play a crucial role in protecting public health by providing incentives for companies to invest in the research and development of new treatments and therapies. These innovations often result in significant improvements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, which ultimately benefit the public.

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The major way that patents contribute to public health is by providing protection for the intellectual property of the inventor or company that developed a new drug or medical device. This protection allows the inventor to recoup their investment and profit from the sale of their product, which in turn encourages further investment in research and development.

Without the protection of patents, it would be difficult for companies to justify the significant financial and time investments required to bring a new drug or medical device to market. This could result in a slowdown or even a complete halt in the development of new treatments and therapies, which would have a negative impact on public health.

Safety and Testing

In addition to providing incentives for the development of new treatments, patents also serve to protect the safety and effectiveness of these treatments. In order to obtain a patent, an inventor must provide detailed information about their invention, including how it works and its potential uses. This information is then reviewed by a patent office, which ensures that the invention meets certain standards of novelty and non-obviousness.

This review process helps to ensure that only innovative and effective treatments are granted a patent, which in turn helps to protect the public from potentially harmful or ineffective products. Additionally, the patent holder is required to maintain and update the safety and effectiveness information for their product, further helping to ensure the safety and efficacy of the treatment.

High Costs: Addressing the Issue

However, patents can also potentially create barriers to access to life-saving treatments, particularly for those living in low-income countries. The high cost of patented drugs and medical devices can make them unaffordable for many individuals, leading to a lack of access to necessary treatments.

To address this issue, some countries have implemented programs to provide generic versions of patented drugs at a lower cost, or have allowed for the import of generic drugs from other countries. Additionally, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have worked to increase access to essential medicines by promoting the development of generic versions of patented drugs and advocating for the use of compulsory licensing, which allows a government to authorize the use of a patented drug without the consent of the patent holder.

Compulsory Licensing: Advantages

Compulsory licensing is a legal mechanism that allows governments to override the exclusive rights granted to patent holders in certain circumstances. This can occur if the patented technology is deemed to be essential for the public interest, such as in the case of a medical emergency or national security crisis. Compulsory licensing can also be used if a patent holder is not making the patented product available to the public on reasonable terms, or if the patent holder is engaging in anticompetitive behavior.

One example of compulsory licensing is the use of patented pharmaceuticals during a public health emergency. In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, governments may issue compulsory licenses to allow the production of generic versions of patented drugs. This helps to increase the availability of lifesaving treatments and reduce the cost of medicine for patients.

Compulsory Licensing: Potential Drawbacks

However, compulsory licensing can also be controversial, as it can potentially devalue the investment made by inventors and patent holders in the development of new technologies. This is particularly true in the pharmaceutical industry, where the high costs of research and development often rely on the potential profits from patented drugs.

Another issue with compulsory licensing is that it can be difficult to determine the appropriate terms and conditions, such as the royalty rates that should be paid to patent holders. This can lead to legal disputes and discourage future investment in research and development.

In order to balance the need for access to essential technologies with the rights of patent holders, many countries have established frameworks for compulsory licensing that include specific conditions and procedures for its use. For example, the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires member countries to provide a system for the grant of compulsory licenses in certain circumstances, such as public health emergencies or national security crises.


Overall, Patents play a crucial a role in protecting public health by providing incentives for the development of new treatment and therapies while also helping to ensure the safety and effectiveness of these treatments. While there are challenges to ensure access to patented drugs and medical devices, various programs and initiatives have been implemented to address these issues and increase access to necessary treatment for all individuals.

AuthorVed Prakash, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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