Patent

Unitaid’s Contradictory Approach to IP Rights Risks Progress

Founded in 2006 by the governments of France, the United Kingdom and several others, and financed by a combination of a tax on airline tickets and government grants, Unitaid is one of the lesser known players in the crowded world of global health. Unitaid’s most distinctive contribution is its Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), now approaching its tenth year of operation. It is a “one-stop shop” for patented medicines owned by different companies and available for voluntary licensing in low- and middle-income countries, so generic versions can be manufactured cheaply. At the moment, it focuses on medicines for HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and Hepatitis C. Respecting existing intellectual property rights (IPRs) for new medicines is key to the success of the MPP, as it allows rights-holders of innovative medicines to widen access to their medicines in lower-income markets without compromising their markets in wealthier parts of the world from where they derive the majority of their profits. This in turn ensures the funds for the research and development that drives medical progress. Despite demonstrating how the market-based system of IPRs can be used to promote access to medicines, Unitaid has also started to pursue energetically what it describes as a “complementary” strategy of encouraging middle-income countries to undermine and attack IP rights.

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