The pharmaceutical industry from the US and Europe scored a major victory with the adoption, in 1994, of a binding agreement on intellectual property (Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights - TRIPS) in the context of the nascent World Trade Organization (WTO).
Industry’s demands and political pressures exerted by developed countries to expand and strengthen patent protection worldwide have been based on the argument that patents promote innovation and thereby contribute to achieve social, political and economic well-being, independently of the level of development of the country where they are granted and enforced.
The steady increase in patent applications and grants that is taking place in developed and some developing countries (notably in China) is sometimes hailed as evidence of the strength of global innovation and of the role of the patent system in encouraging it.
Innovation in the pharmaceutical industry has declined drastically in the last ten years despite the high profitability of the so-called "research-based" industry, and the availability of better and more powerful science and technological tools. Not only has productivity in terms of research fallen, but the vast majority of new molecules introduced to the market do not provide new therapeutic solutions since other treatments already exist, normally at a lower cost.
A proposal has been made to initiate a debate on patent quality at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The expression ‘patent quality’ ambiguously alludes to a growing problem, faced in both developed and developing countries alike: the overwhelming majority of patents are applied for and granted over incremental developments on existing technologies.