Anti-patent refers to the complete or partial opposition to prevalent patent laws. A patent is a branch of intellectual property covering "industrial propert" which is protected by patents or trademarks. Patents cover inventions, including new solutions to technical problems, and industrial design, awarding protection against any use without authorization of the owner.[1] Anti-patent arguments have been advanced with regards to affordable generic anti-AIDS drugs in developing countries and software (see Software patent debate).

A long standing argument against patents is that they may hinder innovation and give rise to "troll" entities. A holding company, pejoratively known as a "patent troll", owns a portfolio of patents, and sues others for infringement of these patents while doing little to develop the technology itself.[2]


Recently anti-patent arguments have been advanced with regards to HIV and AIDS drugs. Governments and companies in Brazil, India, Thailand and Uganda have started to challenge patents on medicine, arguing that human lives are more important than patents, copyright, international trade laws, and the economic interest of pharmaceutical companies. Anti-retroviral therapy has long been unaffordable for people suffering from HIV/Aids in developing countries, and proponents of generic antiviral drugs argue that the human need justifies the breach of patent law. When the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization started producing generic antiviral drugs in March 2002 the cost of a monthly treatment for one person plummeted from $500-$750 to $30, hence making treatment more affordable. In response the US government placed Thailand on the list of "copyright violators". In 2007 the government of Brazil declared Merck's efavirenz anti-retroviral drug a "public interest" medicine, and challenged Merck to negotiate lower prices with the government or have Brazil strip the patent by issuing a compulsory license.[3][4][5]

It is reported that Ghana, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia have similar plans to produce generic antiviral drugs. Western pharmaceutical companies initially responded with legal challenges, but some have now promised to introduce alternative pricing structures for developing countries and NGOs.[6][7]

Campaigns for affordable access to medicines, such as Oxfam, argue that developing countries are dependent on foreign pharmaceutical companies. Quoting a recent World Health Organisation report on intellectual property and public health Trevor Jones, director of research and development at the Welcome Foundation, argues that prices of medicines is rarely set by patents and copyright. He argues that "Companies set prices largely on the willingness/ability to pay, also taking into account the country, disease and regulation."[4]

Under World Trade Organization rules, a developing country has options for obtaining needed medications under compulsory licensing or importation of cheaper versions of the drugs, even before patent expiration.[8] In July 2008 Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir John Sulston criticised the "moral corruption" of the medical industry. Amongst others Sulston said that the world is at a crisis point in terms of getting medicines to sick people, particularly in the developing world. Sulston called for an international biomedical treaty to clear up issues over patents and intellectual property.[9]

See also


  1. ^ World Intellectual Property Organisation. "Understanding Copyright and Related Rights" (PDF). WIPO. pp. 6–7. Retrieved August 2008. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ^ "Patent troll definition and description". Retrieved 2008-02-15.
  3. ^ "Drugs give HIV patients longer lives in victory for anti-patent activists". Health & Medicine Week. August 2004.
  4. ^ a b Anderson, Tatum (June 2006). "Africa rises to HIV drug challenge". BBC News.
  5. ^ "Brazil's HIV-drug break down". May 2007.
  6. ^ Anderson, Tatum (June 2006). "Africa rises to HIV drug challenge". BBC News.
  7. ^ "Brazil's HIV-drug break down". May 2007.
  8. ^ (WTO Press Release)
  9. ^ McGrath, Matt (July 2008). "Sulston argues for openmedicine". BBC News.