Are pharmaceutical patents protected by human rights?

J Med Ethics. 2008 Nov;34(11):e25. doi: 10.1136/jme.2007.022483.


The International Bill of Rights enshrines a right to health, which includes a right to access essential medicines. This right frequently appears to conflict with the intellectual property regime that governs pharmaceutical patents. However, there is also a human right that protects creative works, including scientific productions. Does this right support intellectual property protections, even when they may negatively affect health? This article examines the recent attempt by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to resolve this issue and argues that it fails. This is problematic because it means defenders of the present patent regime can continue using human rights documents to support their position. I offer a new framework for resolving the problem by examining the values that underlie human rights.

MeSH terms

  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Rights / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Property*
  • Patents as Topic / ethics*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Social Justice / ethics*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations