Trade Rules, Intellectual Property, and the Right to Health

Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 21, No. 3, Fall 2007

Posted: 10 Feb 2008


In perpetuating and exacerbating restricted access to essential medicines, current trade-related intellectual property rules on medicines may violate core human rights to health and medicines. In this light, there should be serious questions about their necessity, and their justification should be critically assessed from the perspective of human rights standards. These standards require that international trade rules on medicines be justified to the fullest extent possible, and permitted only to the extent to which they can be justified.

In this article I explore the impact of trade rules on medicines access, and the growing force of the human right to health. I argue that the limited justification for strong patents in poor countries suggests the need for significant reform of trade-related intellectual property rights. I argue further that human rights standards may offer both normative and practical tools for achieving this reform and challenging trade rules on medicines at various levels.

Keywords: right to health, trade, access to medicines

JEL Classification: K32, K33

Suggested Citation

Forman, Lisa, Trade Rules, Intellectual Property, and the Right to Health. Available at SSRN:

Lisa Forman (Contact Author)

University of Toronto ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8

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