World IP Day: One of the Most Important Health Observance Days of the Year
There are many ‘International Observance Days’, primarily existing to mark specific disease areas; cancer, mental health, HIV/AIDS, each with the invaluable purpose of raising awareness and promoting action. For different reasons 26 April - World Intellectual Property Day could also be considered a key Observance Day from a healthcare perspective. Though it is not dedicated to any specific condition or group of patients, intellectual property (IP) is a cornerstone of creating new therapies and addressing unmet medical needs for everyone.
The commonest form of intellectual property protection is a patent. A patent provides the inventor with exclusive rights to, for example, manufacture or licence their product for a limited period of time. This protects the inventor from unfair competition from others that have made none of the investment and borne none of the risk in developing the new treatment. For companies developing new medicines, it gives the assurance needed to make that initial investment in the long and complex process of delivering a new medicine for patients. And it’s a high risk investment; the vast majority of potential new treatments fail before reaching the market with odds of 10 000 to 1. Even when an invention makes it to potential drug candidate and on to being a medicine available to patients, often over half its patent life is spent in development and navigating the regulatory process.
The concept of patents, particularly in life sciences, is often misunderstood. They are mistakenly viewed as restricting knowledge or inflating the cost of medicines or creating barriers to access. This is not the case; in fact, the way in which patents work actually helps accelerate scientific advances and bring down the cost of medicine development. This is because to obtain a patent an inventor has to disclose the invention to the public; (the English word ‘patent’ actually derives from the Latin, ‘patere’ – ‘to lay open’) and once that happens, others can build on the body of work to make further advances.
This represents a win-win scenario; the patent holders’ right to benefit from their work is protected for a limited amount of time and the patent contributes to the diffusion of cutting edge knowledge from the outset. Without a patent, manufacturers would need to rely on approaches such as trade secrecy. Research would be unnecessarily duplicated, opportunities for collaborations hindered, pushing up R&D costs and slowing down the pace of scientific advancement.
We are approaching an era where scientific discovery seems likely to accelerate dramatically. New insights into human genomics, the power of large-scale data processing and the increased convergence across the life sciences sector may open up unforeseen opportunities. If we want to be ready to take full advantage of this, we need to safeguard IP to inspire and ensure continued investment in research that will fully realise all this exciting potential.
Therefore I hope we take a moment on 26 April to acknowledge the contribution of intellectual property. Without IP, we wouldn’t be enjoying much of the health and longevity we currently enjoy; nor will we be in a position to make the most of future opportunities.
Enjoy your World Intellectual Property Day!