Public health, innovation, intellectual property and trade

Access to Medicines, Patent Information and Freedom to Operate

A Joint Technical Symposium by WHO, WIPO and WTO

Where: WHO Headquarters, Geneva
When: 18 February 2011, 9 am - 6 pm

Limited information on patent status of medical products and related problems for users of such information are frequently raised in policy discussions on access to medicines, including at the trilateral technical symposium on Access to Medicines: Pricing and Procurement Practices organized jointly by the WHO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva on July 16, 2010. This second of the series of joint symposia therefore focused on access to medicines, patent information and freedom to operate.


In addition, on February 17, 2011, a Workshop on Patent Searches and Freedom to Operate was offered for individuals and organizations interested in learning more about the basic concepts of how to do patent searches and freedom to operate analysis.


The Symposium addressed the growing importance of patent information for public health in the fields of freedom to operate strategies, procurement of medicines, technology transfer, and setting of research priorities and strategies. The event raised awareness and provided insights on the availability and use of reliable patent information in the endeavour of ensuring access to medicines.

The objective was to:

  • highlight the importance of easy access to patent information for providing access to medicines;
  • show how patent information can be used in determining the freedom to operate for improving access to medicines;
  • explore what kind of patent information is required for this purpose;
  • explore to what extent this information is available and accessible; and
  • identify information gaps that need to be addressed.

The Symposium focused on new research outcomes and data that provided an empirical and practical basis for discussion. Speakers presented the outcome of some projects undertaken by the respective agencies and other experts. The Symposium also considered the views of providers and users of intellectual property information. Users of health-related patent information, including representatives from the research based and generic pharmaceutical industry and procurement agencies as well as information providers such as national patent offices presented their respective perspectives.

A background paper, which provides an overview of the underlying concepts and key terms is available below.

The Symposium forms part of the on-going trilateral cooperation between the WHO, WIPO and WTO, which includes the implementation of the WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.


The purpose of the third trilateral joint technical Symposium was to discuss current changes in the innovation landscape and explore new and potential business models in medical innovation.

Participants were Geneva-based delegations to the WHO, WIPO and WTO, representatives of international and philanthropic organizations, experts on patent information, civil society organizations and interested individuals and organizations.

The Symposium is the third in the series of joint technical symposia on public health, intellectual property and trade convened by the WHO, WIPO and the WTO. It builds on the collaborative work undertaken by the three agencies which includes the implementation of the WHO Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. A major objective of this collaboration is to enhance capacity. To further this aim, the three agencies have published a joint study on Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation.