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The Politics of Patents
and Drugs in Brazil a
nd Mexico:

The Industrial Bases of Health Policies

Kenneth Shadlen

Comparative Politics, October 2009
(an earlier version appeared as GDAE Working Paper No. 07-05, December 2007)

This paper analyzes the politics of intellectual property (IP) and public health policies in Brazil and Mexico. Although both countries introduced pharmaceutical patents in the 1990s, in subsequent years Brazil adjusted the patent system to ameliorate the effects that patents can have on drug prices while Mexico introduced measures that reinforce and intensify these effects. To explain these differences, GDAE Research Fellow Kenneth Shadlen focuses on the actors pushing for reform and subsequent patterns of coalitional formation and political mobilization.

In Brazil, the government’s demand for patented and expensive drugs made health-oriented IP reform a high priority, and the existence of an economically and politically autonomous local pharmaceutical sector allowed the Ministry of Health to build a coalition in support. In Mexico, the government’s demand made IP reforms less urgent, and the fundamental transformations of the pharmaceutical sector allowed the reform project to become commandeered by IP owners and ultimately have the perverse effect of reinforcing the system that was being challenged.

The findings suggest that the existence of indigenous pharmaceutical and pharmo-chemical capacity may not just be beneficial for industrial development, but also for promoting public health by broadening the political coalitions that underpin health reforms.

Download "The Politics of Patents and Drugs in Brazil and Mexico"

(NOTICE: Author Posting. (c) Comparative Politics. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.)

For more about GDAE’s work on Intellectural Property.


The Global Development and Environment Institute’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program examines the economic, social and environmental impacts of economic integration in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on the WTO and NAFTA's lessons for trade and development policy. The goal of the program is to identify policies and international agreements that foster sustainable development.

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