SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Cullet, Philippe (2019) 'Medical Patents and the Right to Health – From Monopoly Control to Open Access Innovation and Provision of Medicines.' German Yearbook of International Law, 61. pp. 153-182.

Text - Accepted Version
Download (311kB) | Preview


The coming into force of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the mid-1990s led to a massive strengthening of intellectual property rights in the global South. This was particularly controversial concerning restrictions on access to medicines and set the stage for spirited debates concerning the impacts of medical patents on the realisation of the right to health in the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Efforts to reconcile the right to health and medical patents led to a minor amendment of the TRIPS Agreement that has hardly had any impact on the ground while further strengthening of patent protection was obtained, for instance, through bilateral agreements. In the human rights field, attempts to strengthen the protection afforded by the right to health have been partly diluted by efforts to strengthen the claims of inventors under human rights law. At this juncture, two main elements need to be taken forward. The first is to revisit our understanding of the human right to health to ensure, for instance, that there is no compromise in the liberal promise of universality, in particular access to medicines for every person who needs them. The second element is the need to rethink the way in which legal incentives are given to innovate. In a context where patents are the only recognised legal incentive to innovate in the medical field, this discourages the development of medicines for diseases that may affect mostly poor patients, since companies need to recoup their investments. Further, it militates against giving attention to other systems of medicine whose innovations can usually not be protected under the patent system, even where treatments are effective.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of Law
School Research Centres > Law, Environment and Development Centre
ISSN: 00213993
Copyright Statement: © 2019 German Yearbook of International Law. This is an accepted version of an article accepted for publication in German Yearbook of International Law:
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2019 14:14

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item