Access to new drugs

The conflicting priorities of protecting intellectual property and meeting the demands of public health


It is important for patients' welfare that they have the best possible access to affordable and high-quality drugs. The role of patent protection in this area is controversial, however: while it is a key incentive to invest in the research and development of new drugs, it allows the holder to prevent competitors commercially exploiting the invention for a certain period, which may make access to the relevant drug difficult in the short term.

The question of how to improve access to new and more effective drugs has been repeatedly addressed by national and international bodies alike. A central aspect of this controversial debate is the role of intellectual property (IP) protection, in particular patent protection. Patents are a key incentive to ensure that risk capital is invested in innovations in the health sector in the long term. However, access to drugs can only be guaranteed if intellectual property can be used.

Primarily poorer countries and certain emerging markets do not view patent protection as an incentive, rather as an obstacle. They wonder whether patents are the solution to ensure better access to drugs or whether they are in fact the problem.
The discussion is heavily ideological at times; on the one hand because the concerned stakeholders are sometimes unaware of how the IP system works, and on the other, because there are competing economic and competitive interests at stake between original drug developers and producers of generic drugs as well as between industrial nations and emerging markets.


Which tasks does the IPI perform in the trade-off between IP protection and public health?

  • We actively participate in or lead internal meetings in the area of “public health, innovation and intellectual property.” In doing so, we develop a coordinated position for Switzerland, which we represent at international negotiations.
  • We play an active role in or lead international negotiations, e.g. at the World Health Organization WHO or the World Trade Organization WTO. In the process, we carry out awareness-raising work on the role of IP protection and communicate the significance and purpose of patent protection.
  • We work hard to ensure that the patent system is recognised as a basis for promoting investment in the research and development of new drugs and thereby also feeds the pipeline for generics in the long term.
  • We demonstrate that a variety of other factors have to be taken into account besides intellectual property, to ensure optimal access to drugs (such as price, trade regulations, national health policy, national healthcare systems, local purchasing power and intermediary trade).
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