Access to new therapeutic products

The delicate balance between 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 medicines. The role of patent protection in this area is often controversial – while protection is a key incentive for investment in the research and development of new medicinal products, it also allows the owner to prevent competitors commercially exploiting the invention for a certain period, which may make it difficult to access the relevant medicines in the short term.

Once patent protection has expired, the therapeutic product or active ingredient is free to use and can be put on the market as a generic. For certain medicines and vaccines, expired patent protection can also lead to bottlenecks in the supply chain.


The question of how to improve access to new and more effective drugs has been repeatedly addressed by national and international bodies alike. One 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 medicinal products 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 medicines 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 manufacturers of originals 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 in 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 medicines 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 medicines (such as price, trade regulations, national health policy, national healthcare systems, local purchasing power and intermediary trade).