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The Body Covers: The XIV International AIDS Conference
Non-Voluntary Patent Pool: The Key to Affordable Antiretrovirals?

July 8, 2002

  • The Creation of a Non-Voluntary Patent Pool for Essential HIV Inventions (MoOrG108)
    Authored by Jamie Love
    Non-abstract driven session

Greetings from bustling Barcelona. The meeting is huge as usual and Barcelona is a bustling and most impressive city. It is a 28-minute walk from the location of the plenary talks to the hall where Jamie Love's presentation on non-voluntary patent pools was presented.

He discussed the history of a non-voluntary patent pool for the aircraft manufacturing industry. He reviewed the original patents issued to the Wright brothers covering heavier than air aircraft manufacturing. It seems the Curtiss brothers developed other designs for airplanes but the courts ruled that their product infringed on the Wright brothers' patent. The view was that competition and innovation were being stifled.

Then came World War I. As airplanes evolved quickly as a tool for war, Navy Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt became involved with an effort to significantly alter the airplane industry. Ultimately, in 1917, a law was passed by Congress establishing a non-voluntary patent pool. This meant that by removing patent restrictions and decreasing the fee paid to the Wright brothers from other manufacturers to produce airplanes, competition was encouraged. Thus, Love brings an example of a precedent in the U.S. where situations of national significance can be used to change the marketplace.

The effort against HIV has been called a war but has still not been treated as one. Numerous references have already been made at this conference about the tens of billions of dollars the U.S. has spent on the war on terrorism since September 11th. The non-voluntary patent pool is a scenario whereby patent laws -- which are perceived to inhibit access to affordable antiretroviral therapy -- are circumvented by the U.S. government.

In my view, such a move would have a significant negative effect on the stock market and the drive for innovation that has produced so many antiretroviral drugs so quickly. However, the U.S. government clearly needs to exert more leadership and contribute considerably more funds to the worldwide AIDS struggle. So, in the meantime, a debate about non-voluntary patent pools and other approaches is called for.

See Also
More on Generic/Discount HIV Drug Access in the Developing World

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