Feature story |

UNITAID gives green light to patent pool

In 2008, the international drug purchasing agency UNITAID took the groundbreaking decision to pursue the idea of establishing a patent pool could hold the key to future access to affordable newer medicines.

But what is a patent pool? How could it help? How does it work? And what needs to happen now?


Ellen 't Hoen, former Director of Policy with MSF's Access Campaign, explains how patent pools could revolutionise the access and innovation picture


Why is a patent pool needed for AIDS medicines?

Download the MSF briefing note on patent pools.

How it works

The idea behind a patent pool is that companies, researchers or universities license the patents on their inventions to one entity: the patent pool.

In this way, any company which wants to use the inventions can get a licence from the Pool, under pre-determined licensing terms, in exchange for royalties.  It could then produce generic versions of the patented inventions and export them to countries covered by the licence.

The licences should be valid for a wide geographical area which would mean an attractively large market for potential producers. This process will encourage multiple producers to come forward, resulting in competition between producers and bringing drug prices down.


Listen to what MSF, UNITAID, the drug company Gilead, and others have to say about patent pools at the 2008 international AIDS conference in Mexico


Watch the Stop AIDS Campaign's 'Push for the Pool' on YouTube What needs to happen now? The next steps undertaken by UNITAID will be to set up a task force to develop an operational plan for the creation of a patent pool. The pool will be voluntary. So the plan stands or falls on the willingness of the patent holders to put their intellectual property in the pool and for others to make use of the patents, in exchange for royalties. 


Read the UNITAID Resolution deciding to pursue the idea of a patent pool for medicines

Press release

Read MSF's response, welcoming the decision

The full picture

Find out all there is to know about patent pools, with policy blogs, briefing papers, statements and more on the Knowledge Ecology International website.