Patents grant exclusive rights to the inventor for a fixed period. The inventor has effective market monopoly or exclusivity on the product for the period. This enables the pharmaceutical companies to charge high prices for their patented product based on what the individual market can bear without fear of competition. R&D is severely crippled by the fear of encroaching on the patent rights during research so competition is almost non- existent during the life of the patent.
It seems that this huge commercial advantage is the real reason behind the pharmaceutical companies’ insistence on patent protection. This is only natural as R&D is a very costly and risky but there is also need to maintain a balance between commercial interests of the companies and public needs. The pharmaceutical market in African countries is almost negligible compared to global market so these companies can still make their profits from sale in the rest of the world where people can afford these drugs. In any case, since the continuous production of a drug after the initial development costs close to nothing and pharmaceutical companies usually expect to recoup the original cost of development from the first generation of patents, by charging less, the companies could still recover development costs and make profit because more people will be able to afford the drugs.
Patents also affect availability of the drugs. There are many pharmaceutical countries in developing countries but with the rapid increase in the amount of infected people everyday, they will not be able to provide enough drugs for all the people that need them even if they could all afford them. It is very important that infected people have a constant supply of the drugs to prevent resistant strains from developing. Though member countries may improve their access by making use of the new developments in patent laws discussed below, it will not contribute to overall availability of the drugs because under the provisions, only the amount needed by the eligible importing country can be manufactured and for the sole purpose of exporting to them to use domestically. A slight increase in the number of people that need treatment would therefore create a shortage.
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