Intellectual Property and Public Health: Two Sides of the Same Coin

60 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2011 Last revised: 17 Oct 2011

See all articles by Yahong Li

Yahong Li

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 30, 2011


Intellectual property (IP) protection has been blamed as one of the main sources of the public health challenge facing society. The high prices of patented drugs causes a low rate of access to medicine in poor countries. Public health and human rights advocates propose to abandon pharmaceutical patents or impose a legal duty on pharmaceutical companies to make essential medicines accessible. This article investigates the monopoly rights and practices in the pharmaceutical field, the gravity of the public health problem and the status of patenting and medicine access in least-developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries (DLCs), and the legal and policy schemes tailored to increase medicine access. Based on the analyzes of the findings from the investigation, the article argues that a patent is a minor factor for medicine access in LDCs, and an important factor in DLCs. But compulsory licensing or other practical solutions can reduce its impact, and intellectual property and public health, as an integral part of each other or two sides of the same coin, are inseparable and mutually dependent. IPR provide necessary incentives in drug discovery and development for public health, the IP system in turn benefits from public health related drug discovery R&D and commercial activities. The relationship between the two should be perceived and constructed in a positive, forward looking and pragmatic way, rather than mutual condemnation and destruction. Scholars and practitioners in both fields should collaborate to have an in-depth understanding of the issues, objectives, schemes and practices in the two fields, and an objective assessment of the impact each has exerted, efforts to reconcile, and positive outcomes achieved.

Keywords: intellectual property rights, patents, access to essential medicines, publc health, compulsory licensing, Doha Declaration

Suggested Citation

Li, Yahong, Intellectual Property and Public Health: Two Sides of the Same Coin (September 30, 2011). AJWH, Vol. 6, No. 389, 2011; University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2011/015. Available at SSRN:

Yahong Li (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics