An Issue of Life or Death

28 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012 Last revised: 11 Dec 2012

See all articles by Madhavi Sunder

Madhavi Sunder

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 16, 2012


Not too long ago, an HIV-positive diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence — for people in the East and the West, in the South and the North. The drug companies that perfected the antiretroviral therapies invested princely sums to find these miracle cures. To justify their investment, they rely on the promise of a patent — the twenty-year exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention that is novel, non-obvious, and useful. The patent allows the drug company to charge high sums for the medicine, and thereby recoup its enormous investments in scientists and drug trials, while also turning a profit for shareholders and investing in research toward future breakthrough drugs. Thus patents have saved countless lives. But this structure has its limits. Indeed, the evidence is mounting that in crucial ways patents fail to promote the health of people in the developing world, and in some cases in the developed world as well.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, International Intellectual Property, Globalization, Law and Development, Law and Culture, Law and Humanities, Property Law

Suggested Citation

Sunder, Madhavi, An Issue of Life or Death (May 16, 2012). Yale University Press 2012, UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 297, Available at SSRN: or

Madhavi Sunder (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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