Frequently Asked Questions
- Who built this site, and why?
- What is it for?
- Do I need to disclose my identity to contribute to the database?
- How can patents be challenged?
- Can I contribute to the Patent Oppositions Database?
- How are contributions evaluated? What are the criteria for inclusion?
- What should I do if I find an error in the database?
- I find it hard to understand some of the legal and medical terminology on this site
Who built this site, and why?
The Patent Opposition Database is a project of the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. We built the Patent Opposition Database to allow experience and knowledge to be shared freely, because we know that the same methods, art and arguments can be used to oppose medicine patents around the world.
Patents on medicines can drive up prices, making them unaffordable to those most in need. But many patents have been awarded wrongly, or based on weak grounds. In such cases, contesting the patent can result in its removal; this frees up the market to produce affordable medicines that will benefit everyone.
What is it for?
The Patent Opposition Database allows you to:
- Learn more about the patent oppositions’ process. Begin by searching the database
- Gather the necessary knowledge and resources to build your own opposition. Take our tutorial now
- Share documents, experience and skills gleaned from previous oppositions. Upload documents here
- Make contacts with other people who have similar interests in opposing specific types of patents. Ask for help here.
- Track specific drugs or conditions by subscribing to email alerts. Begin by searching the database.
Do I need to disclose my identity to contribute to the database?
Documents may be submitted anonymously. However, we encourage you to include contact information if possible, so we can contact you if we have any questions regarding your submission.
How can patents be challenged?
Patent opposition is a growing movement, and has already been used successfully by civil society groups in several countries. Some of the main grounds that patents can be challenged on include:
In order to qualify for a patent, pharmaceutical corporations should be able to demonstrate that new variants of medicines are both inventive and non-obvious. Nonetheless, out of the huge number of patent applications, only a few refer to genuine inventions. and most are for minor variants of already known pharmaceutical substances. For more information, see Resources - Intellectual Property and Patents.
Many countries include strict standards in their patent-granting process - but their patent offices do not always always stick to them.
Patent oppositions can apply pressure for more rigorous standards during the patent examination process, reinforcing the need to reject non-qualifying patents. They can also present new arguments that were not previously considered by the patent office, thus improving patent quality.
Monopoly extension or ‘evergreening’
Pharmaceutical companies have a clear interest in extending their patent monopolies on profitable medicines for as long as possible. Many use the patent system to delay the entry of competitors into the market.
To extend a patent, a company can, for example, change the medicine from a powder to a pill, or add another existing compound to the original compound if it finds that it the original compound works better with this addition. These minor variations allow pharmaceutical companies to make secondary applications for additional 20-year patents, to extend their monopoly on the drug.
This is known as evergreening, a common practice in the pharmaceutical industry.
This practice extends the patent and it also prevents the subject matter of each patent from entering the public domain, for public use, at the end of its 20 year term.
Patent oppositions can be useful for deterring evergreening methods. In many cases, patent oppositions have been followed by patent rejections - the final result is a pharmaceutical substance being brought into the public domain.
Public health need
Under international agreements, there are some mechanisms, such as compulsory licensing, that can be used to override a patent monopoly when a public health need is at stake. The use of these licenses relies mostly on political will.
Patent oppositions, on the other hand, work as a preventive strategy to avoid the granting of underserved patents without the need for government action. However, when it comes to an important drug that meets a critical public health need, initiating a patent challenge can catalyze the interests of governments and generic producers, leading to more rapid decisions and development of generic versions that can be available as soon as the outcome of the opposition is known.
Intellectual property and patents
From the South Centre:
Intellectual Property and Access to Science
Guidelines on Patentability and Access to Medicines
From the United Nations Development Programme
Can I contribute to the Patent Oppositions Database?
Yes. if you’ve been through the process of challenging a patent, your experience will be very useful to the global community.
You can contribute patent applications and oppositions; prior art; documents from court cases; patent office decisions; legislation, or the results of patent searches.
You may also wish to upload relevant literature.
How are contributions evaluated? What are the criteria for inclusion?
A small team of intellectual property law and pharmacy experts will review submissions to the Patent Opposition Database to check that the information is relevant.
In the future, we would like to open up this role to a growing team of experts, because our goal is that this site will become an open resource, managed by the community which needs and uses it.
What should I do if I find an error in the database?
We are keen to ensure that the Patent Opposition Database is a reliable source of accurate information. Please report any errors that you find through the corrections form.
I find it hard to understand some of the legal and medical terminology on this site
Check the glossary for explanations of several terms, as well as links to other terminology resources.