Book chapter

Pharmaceutical Patents in Latin America: Global Change, National Responses (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Since the late 1980s, developing countries have come under considerable pressure to revise their policies and practices with regard to intellectual property. One area where pressures have been exceptionally strong, and also controversial, is in pharmaceuticals: historically, fearing the costs of providing private property rights over knowledge in this area, developing countries did not grant patents to drugs. Now they must do so. This global change has yielded multiple, different national responses. In Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have demonstrated persistent diversity, both in terms of how they initially introduced drug patents in the 1990s, and then how they reformed their patent systems subsequently in the 2000s. What explains this variation? Many political scientists focus on factors such as external pressures, domestic institutions, and the ideological orientation of political leaders. But none of these are sufficient in this instance. Instead, cross-national and longitudinal variation in patent policy is best understood as being driven by social structure. Specifically, changing social structures affect political leaders' abilities to construct and sustain supportive coalitions for different patent policies. Social structures can change in two ways. First, exporters fearing the loss of preferential market access may be converted into advocates of strong and extensive patent protection. Second, differential patterns of adjustment among state and societal actors that are inspired by the introduction of new policies change the set of actors that push for or against different policies. It is within the changing structural conditions produced by these two processes that political leaders build coalitions in support of different responses to the new global imperative of pharmaceutical patents.