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Compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals

As the Supreme Court’s Judgment that the government’s suspension of parliament was unlawful made headlines, Jeremy Corbyn – the leader of the Opposition – used his speech at the Labour Party conference to announce radical policies. Some of those policies involve a controversial area of intellectual property, namely the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for patented medicines and the fact that many patients who might benefit from those medicines are denied access to them on the grounds of cost. In his speech, Mr Corbyn referred to a young cystic fibrosis sufferer he had met recently, who would benefit from a treatment that is licensed in the UK but is not available on the National Health Service (NHS) because its manufacturer demands a price that is in excess of £100,000 per patient per year.

Labour’s solutions – if elected – to that problem would be threefold: (1) the use of compulsory licensing to enable manufacture and supply of the patented medicine by other companies, (2) the establishment of a publicly-owned generic drug manufacturer, and (3) the denial of public funding to companies that charge excessive prices for their patented medicines. It is the first of these in particular – compulsory licensing – that is impacted by IP law.

Read the analysis of patent attorney Steve Jones in respect of this potentially controversial policy here.

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