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Patent Pool

What is a Patent Pool and why do we need one?

When a drug is patented, its producer can charge any price for it that the market will bear because there are no competitors to drive prices down.  This means drugs are often priced out of reach for the people who need them.  The Medicines Patent Pool was created in 2010 to increase access to more affordable and adapted HIV/AIDS medicines in developing countries.  Patent holders, such as pharmaceutical companies or academic institutions, are encouraged to share their drug patents with the Patent Pool, in turn allowing other manufacturers to produce more affordable generics. The patent holder receives a royalty payment in return.  With multiple producers seeking licences and competing for the market, drug prices can be driven down.  The Pool aims in particular to facilitate the development of ‘fixed-dose combinations,’ (FDCs), whereby multiple medicines are combined into one easy-to-take pill.  FDCs can be more easily developed through the Patent Pool, as patents on the individual drugs do not stand in the way of combining them. 
But the patent pool is a voluntary mechanism, so in order for it to achieve these objectives companies and other patent holders need to be willing to make it work.
The Patent Pool must benefit people in all developing countries
MSF has long been supportive of the idea of a Patent Pool, having proposed it to UNITAID initially in 2006, together with the NGO Knowledge Ecology International.  Through the ‘Make It Happen’ campaign, launched in 2009, MSF pushed for the Patent Pool to be established, and in 2010, the Medicines Patent Pool finally became a reality.  However, MSF has always stressed that the Patent Pool must serve people living with HIV/AIDS in all developing countries, without exception, and has been urging pharmaceutical companies to put their HIV drug patents in the Pool. 
First steps, but still a long way to go
The Medicines Patent Pool agreed its first licence with the US National Institutes of Health in September 2010 for a patent on HIV drug darunavir.  Significantly, the licence allows any manufacturer to produce, and covers production and sale in all developing countries, including those called ‘middle-income’. However, the licence itself does not allow for generic production of the drug, as Johnson & Johnson, which holds other key patents on the drug, so far refuse to put their patents in the Pool.  In July 2011, pharmaceutical company Gilead agreed to put patents for four HIV medicines in the Pool, but the licences disappointingly exclude several developing countries and restrict the number of companies that can produce the drugs. Pressure must be kept up to push Gilead to improve these licenses, as well as to push other companies to put their patents in the Pool.

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