For decades, intellectual property has played a fundamental role in the pharmaceutical industry, encouraging innovation by granting exclusive rights to creators of new medicines and innovative medical technologies. However, issues related to the ethics of intellectual property in the field of medicine and healthcare have become more insistent, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do we reconcile the need for innovation with the need to ensure access to life-saving treatments?
On the one hand, intellectual property advocates argue that measures to protect it are important in order to promote innovation and support increasingly expensive medical research and development projects. Without the ability to acquire exclusive rights to a new drug or medical device, companies would lack the incentive to invest in such expensive projects, and medical progress would come to a halt.
On the other hand, critics of intellectual property point to the high cost of many drugs, especially in the United States, where pharmaceutical companies are free to set prices as they please. This can lead to situations where life-saving treatments are out of reach for many patients. In addition, there are concerns that intellectual property protection will suppress innovation by creating monopolies and preventing third parties from relying on existing research.
Exploring alternative strategies to support medical R&D is one way to balance these conflicting interests. For example, in exchange for a promise to make therapies from major medical advances available and affordable to all, the government should provide subsidies or tax incentives to the companies concerned. Or create bonuses for medical breakthroughs, with winners selected based on an unbiased set of criteria.
Using licensing agreements is another strategy that could be used to ensure that medicines and medical innovations are accessible at fair prices in all markets. This could involve using trade agreements to persuade countries to pass laws promoting access to essential medicines or setting up voluntary licensing agreements between companies and public health organizations to ensure treatments are affordable in low- and middle-income countries.
Ultimately, the complexity of the issue and the nuances to be brought to bear around intellectual property ethics in the field of medicine and health care require a thorough examination from various angles of approach. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to all situations. Nevertheless, by recognizing the importance of innovation and access to as many people as possible, and by engaging in inventive approaches to harmonize these imperatives, society as a whole can move towards a future where life-saving treatments are accessible to all.