Global Health: A Normative Analysis of Intellectual Property Rights and Global Distributive Justice

by DeCamp, Matthew Wayne

Abstract (Summary)
In the past several years, the impact of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on

access to medicines and medical technologies has come under increased scrutiny.

Motivating this are highly publicized cases where IPRs appear the threaten access to

particular medicines and diagnostics. As IPRs become globalized, so does the

controversy: In 1998, nearly forty pharmaceutical companies filed a lawsuit against

South Africa, citing (among other issues) deprivation of intellectual property. This

followed South Africa’s implementation of various measures to enable and encourage

the use of generic medicines – a move that was particularly controversial for the newly

available (and still patented) HIV medicines. While many historical, legal, economic,

and policy analyses of these cases and issues exist, few explicitly normative projects

have been undertaken.

This thesis utilizes interdisciplinary and explicitly normative philosophical

methods to fill this normative void, engaging theoretical work on intellectual property

and global distributive justice with each other, and with empirical work on IPR reform.

In doing so, it explicitly rejects three mistaken assumptions about the debate over IPRs

and access to essential medicines: (i) that this debate reduces to a disagreement about

empirical facts; (ii) that intellectual property is normatively justified solely by its ability

to “maximize innovation”; and (iii) that this controversy reduces to irresolvable

disagreement about global distributive justice. Calling upon the best contemporary

approaches to human rights, it argues that these approaches lend normative weight in

favor of reforming IPRs – both that they should be reformed, and how – to better enable

access to essential medicines. Such reforms might include modifying the present global

IPR regime or creating new alternatives to the exclusivity of IPRs, both of which are

considered in light of a human right to access to essential medicines. Future work will

be needed, however, to better specify the content of a right to “essential medicines” and

determine a fair distribution of the costs of fulfilling it.

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Buchanan, Allen; Cook-Deegan, Robert; Rosenberg, Alex; So, Anthony

School:Duke University

School Location:USA - North Carolina

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:intellectual property essential medicines global distributive justice human rights ethics innovation


Date of Publication:05/07/2007

© 2009 All Rights Reserved.