Pharmaceutical Innovation, Incremental Patenting and Compulsory Licensing

There is growing evidence of a proliferation of patents over minor variants of existing products, both in developed and developing countries. This trend has special implications in the case of pharmaceuticals. While the number of newly-developed chemical entities has dramatically fallen during the last 10 years, the number of patents over simple changes in the chemistry or formulation of existing pharmaceuticals has continuously increased. The use of these patents to exclude generic competition may block access to affordable drugs and constitute an obstacle to the right to health. The granting of patents on minor variants of known pharmaceuticals may, in particular, force governments to resort to granting compulsory licenses.

Developing countries interested in promoting local innovation therefore face a policy dilemma, mainly, how to design patent policies that promote local innovation while ensuring the broadest possible access to medicines, particularly by the poor. The research will test the hypotheses that a) given the asymmetries in innovation capacity between local and foreign industries, low standards of patentability will ultimately benefit the latter and b) the application of a strict inventive step standard is likely to increase room for follow-on innovation and health status in the country of patent grant.

The research aims to demonstrate that with the application of well-defined patentability standards, governments could avoid spending political and diplomatic capital associated with compulsory licensing and government use.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

End Date

Thursday, April 7, 2011


18 months

IDRC Officer

Bortagaray, Isabel

Total funding

CA$ 309,000


India, South Africa, North of Sahara, South of Sahara, North and Central America, South America, Central Asia, Far East Asia, South Asia


Networked Economies

Project Leader

Carlos Maria Correa


Fundacion Instituto para la Investigacion del Medicamento en los Sistemas de Salud

Institution Country