Tahir Amin: Drug Patents and Innovation

May 8, 2018

Tahir Amin, DipLP, co-founder and director of intellectual property of Initiative for Medicines, Access, and Knowledge, discusses the link between drug patents and innovation.


Do you see differences in the attitudes toward patients in the United States versus other nations?

Well that’s interesting, because largely the United States and the Europeans and Japanese have largely been the drivers of the modern intellectual property system, given particularly the United States and Europe, and then in the 80s the Japanese because they became very tech savvy and their economy grew as a result of all the technologies that they started to export.

But now as you see today, China has the highest number of applications of patents than any other country. So, I think the attitudes towards intellectual property of patents has changed, still largely driven by the philosophies of Europe and the United States, but now China is exceeding both of those in terms of number of filings.

Does that mean that China is innovating more? Probably not. I think…the number of patents equating to better innovation or higher innovation is unfortunately a myth. I think there’s a number of academic studies or ways of studying that which can disprove a lot of the statistical reasoning. I think that’s what we as an organization are trying to get to the bottom of, to say that actually just because you have more patents or just because you’re pushing more patents is going to actually enhance innovation.

We understand that people need incentives and something to secure their investments, but we think it’s a bit of a race to the bottom. Because now we’re seeing people saying, “Well only if you have more than 30,000 patent applications a year are you doing real innovation?” and I don’t think it works that way.