Can drug patents be morally justified?

Science and Engineering Ethics 11 (1):81-92 (2005)
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This paper offers a few elements of an answer to the question to what extent drug patents can be morally justified. Justifications based on natural rights, distributive justice and utilitarian arguments are discussed and criticized. The author recognizes the potential of the patents to benefit society but argues that the system is currently evolving in the wrong direction, particularly in the field of drugs. More than a third of the world’s population has no access to essential drugs. The working of the patent system is an important determinant of access to drugs. This paper argues that drug patents are not easily justified and that the ‘architecture’ of the patent system should be rethought in view of its mission of benefiting society.



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Sigrid Sterckx
University of Ghent