A Typology of Intellectual Property Management for Public Health Innovation and Access: Design Considerations for Policymakers§

Antony Taubman*
Intellectual Property Division, World Trade Organization (WTO), Centre William Rappard, 154, Rue de Lausanne, 121121, Switzerland

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© Antony Taubman; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Intellectual Property Division, World Trade Organization (WTO), Centre William Rappard, 154, Rue de Lausanne, 121121, Switzerland; Tel: +41 22 739 5981; Fax: +41 22 739 57 90; E-mail:


This paper seeks to set the practical discipline of public interest intellectual property (IP) management in public health into its broader policy context. The most immediate and direct impact of IP systems on public welfare results not from international standards nor from national legislation – though these norms are fundamentally important - but rather from the accumulated impact of numerous practical choices whether or not to seek IP protection; where and where not; and how any exclusive rights are deployed, by whom, and to what end. IP management is the essentially practical exercise of limited exclusive rights over protected subject matter, the judicious use of those rights to leverage outcomes that advance an institution's or a firm's objectives. Exclusive rights are used to construct and define knowledge-based relationships, to leverage access to technology and other necessary resources, and to enhance market-based incentives. IP management choices range across a broad spectrum, spanning public domain strategies, open or exclusive licensing, and strong exclusivity. The idea of ‘exclusive rights’, as a specific legal mechanism, can run counter to expectations of greater openness and accessibility, but actual outcomes will depend very much on how these mechanisms are used in practice. For public interest or public sector institutions concerned with health research and development, particularly the development of new medicines, IP management choices can be just as critical as they are for private firms, although a predominant institutional concentration on advancing direct public interest objectives may lead to significantly different approaches in weighing and exercising practical choices for IP management: even so, a private sector approach should not be conflated with exclusivity as an end in itself, nor need public interest IP management eschew all leverage over IP. This paper offers a tentative framework for a richer typology of those choices, to give a sense of practical options available and the factors that might guide their application, but without advocating any particular approach.

Keywords:: Intellectual property, research policy, patents, innovation..