Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Healthcare: Unanswered Questions in Theory and Policy

41 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2008 Last revised: 8 Jun 2014

See all articles by Smita Srinivas

Smita Srinivas

Technological Change Lab, Columbia University


Intellectual property regimes are usually presumed to exert positive inducements on technological innovation. However, given the dire nature of access to critical health technologies for most of the world's population, it is worth revisiting this assumption for health technologies. This paper situates intellectual property rights (IPRs) for health technologies at the intersection of three fields: innovation studies, welfare theories, and international political economy. It revisits the conceptual underpinnings of property rights with particular relevance for needs of today's industrializing, or so-called "developing" countries. This paper argues that the debates on IPR have poorly explored counterfactuals in pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies where other means of inducement may exist and innovations may arise in conditions where IPR is either absent or irrelevant. To do this, it first discusses utility as a basis for IPRs and the challenges - philosophical, theoretical and most importantly, practical - in translating this to real-world use. It draws on history to analyze pharmaceutical prior drug generations and alternate inducements. The article offers a novel 2X2 conceptual framework to study innovation in developing contexts where IPR can be specifically situated. If the real goal is accessible and affordable healthcare - an issue of immense importance

Keywords: intellectual property rights, economic development, innovation, health planning and policy

JEL Classification: O31, O34, O14, D01, D23, D46, D63, D83

Suggested Citation

Srinivas, Smita, Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Healthcare: Unanswered Questions in Theory and Policy. Economica, Vol. 10, No. 2, December 2008 (Special Issue on IPR and Development, Brazil), Available at SSRN:

Smita Srinivas (Contact Author)

Technological Change Lab, Columbia University ( email )

400 Avery, 1172 Amsterdam Avenue, MC 340
New York,, NY 10027
United States

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