Accessibility to Medicine or Intellectual Property Protection? Do we have to choose?

Recently, India granted Pfizer a patent for its anti-pneumonia drug, Prevenar 13. Most importantly and controversially, this patent will bar companies from producing generic versions.

Some activists, like Doctors without Borders, are dismayed by this decision. They argue it will threaten accessibility to inexpensive drugs within India and globally.  Currently, India is a large exporter of generic drugs and pneumonia continues to be a large killer in India. According to The Economic Times, India has the highest number of pneumonia-related child deaths, globally. However, supporters of the decision believe these worries are exaggerated. They argue that India has a free vaccination program so competition and accessibility issues will not be engaged.

Like many intellectual property decisions, this cases touches upon broader themes. One such theme is how to balance the right of an owner to profit from their creation and the public’s right to access necessary goods. Various state and non-state actors have attempted to balance these potentially competing ideals. For example, GlaxoSmithKline does not file patents in developing countries and the Marrakesh Treaty exempts Braille books from copyright. The World Trade Organization permits exceptions to trade policy that ensure accessibility to health-related products. The Doha Declaration allows compulsory licensing where a non-owner is legally permitted to manufacture a patented drug.

With this in mind, where will this decision fit in?

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