McMahon and Richardson, ‘Patents, healthcare and engaged shareholders: a pathway to encourage socially responsible patent use?’

ABSTRACT
This paper focuses on the drivers steering companies’ behaviour over uses of patented health technologies, taking Covid-19 as a case study. Global equitable access to health technologies is vital to bringing the pandemic under control. Reflecting this, global mechanisms for rightsholders to share intellectual property rights, data and know-how over such health technologies have been developed. Yet, to date, there is limited support from corporate rightsholders for such mechanisms. Instead, health technologies have been licensed largely based on bilateral deals, with vast global inequalities emerging. Given the traditional focus within company law on prioritising shareholders’ short-term financial value, we argue that it is unsurprising that many corporate rightsholders adopt a protectionist approach to patents, even in the face of health crises. However, we argue that the tide may now be starting to shift, catalysed by an emergence of engaged shareholders petitioning for socially responsible corporate behaviour, including for uses of intellectual property over health technologies in a manner that more clearly aligns with public interests. If harnessed and encouraged, such engaged shareholder behaviour could present an opportunity to reframe the conception of shareholder value towards one that considers a long-term sustainable approach and ultimately to shift corporate behaviour around uses of intellectual property over health technologies to take public interests into account.

Aisling McMahon and Edana Richardson, Patents, healthcare and engaged shareholders: a pathway to encourage socially responsible patent use?, Legal Studies, https://doi.org/10.1017/lst.2021.49. Published online by Cambridge University Press: 1 October 2021.

First posted 2021-10-04 14:00:12

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