Business Association Chemistry Pharma Life Sciences


Intellectual property needs protection at an international level

The protection of intellectual property must create a level playing field through international and universally applicable IP standards. This strengthens the competitiveness and innovative power of research centres such as Switzerland.  


Intellectual property (IP) is a key driver of progress in science, technology and the economy. In Switzerland, a country that consistently ranks at the top of global innovation indices, the protection of intellectual property plays a central role as a prerequisite for international competitiveness.  

IP protection is a prerequisite for innovation 
Intellectual property covers various categories such as copyright, trade marks, patents, design protection and geographical indications such as Swissness. Such intangible assets are protected by laws that aim to promote creativity, innovation and fair competition. The aim is to grant authors and inventors the right to control and utilize the fruits of their intellectual labour.  

Over the decades, Switzerland has increasingly developed into an international research and innovation hub. It is a global leader in patent applications. The high level of investment in research and development is crucial for economic success. The chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences industries account for around 40 per cent of private investment in research and development (CHF 6.7 billion in 2021 according to the FSO, article only available in German). Over a third of Switzerland's total R&D expenditure is channelled into biotechnology. However, these investments are only economically viable if strong global protection of intellectual property rights is guaranteed.  

The development of a drug with a new active ingredient takes around 8-12 years, involves numerous failed trials and extensive research and development phases. Investments of several hundred million to two billion Swiss francs are not uncommon. Patent protection therefore plays a decisive role in compensating for these high investments and enables companies and research institutes to invest in innovations in the long term. Without such protection mechanisms for investments and incentive systems for research and development, there would be hardly any innovation in the medium and long term.   

Efforts to undermine international standards 
The international TRIPS agreement sets standards for the protection of intellectual property in order to ensure fair global competition. At the urging of certain developing countries, a TRIPS waiver was adopted at the twelfth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in June 2022 (scienceindustries - WTO decision on the TRIPS agreement).However, there was no support for extending the waiver to Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, as the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in February 2024 showed.  

However, efforts to undermine multilateral standards for the protection of intellectual property continue. For example, a negotiating text for the "WHO pandemic agreement" is currently being discussed within the World Health Organisation (WHO) (INB process (Zero Draft)). However, the original aim of strengthening mechanisms to effectively combat the Covid-19 pandemic is jeopardised by the current draft text. This is because it contains content that could weaken the protection of intellectual property, hinder investment in medical progress and thus jeopardise the future care of the world's population in health crises.   

The WHO's proposed measures wrongly focus on undermining intellectual property protection and building a state research and production ecosystem instead of concentrating on key problems such as access to healthcare services, population education and inadequate healthcare systems. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) has impressively demonstrated why this approach is being rejected by the innovative industries: IFPMA statement on the WHO Pandemic Accord.  

Anchoring IP in free trade agreements 
On the one hand, there are constant efforts to undermine the multilateral mechanisms for the protection of intellectual property; on the other hand, these international minimum standards leave a lot of room for manoeuvre on a national basis. This is because how IP protection is interpreted and implemented on a national basis is often decisive. For example, although countries adhere to the twenty-year patents prescribed by TRIPS, there is no patent protection for minor changes to medicines. In addition, countries such as India do not have the same requirements regarding document protection. For example, Indian copycat products do not have to provide evidence of complex and expensive studies.   

Free trade agreements should therefore stipulate that Swiss companies must not be discriminated against in comparison to local companies. Companies should be given more legal certainty with regard to compulsory licence measures. In general, it is important that the minimum TRIPS standards are enshrined in free trade agreements with clear definitions. This includes the common international interpretation of the TRIPS Agreement - e.g. on document protection - which partner countries should incorporate.  

Where multilateral agreements and standards fall short, Switzerland, as a centre of innovation and research, must ensure that IP protection can be strengthened by means of bilateral free trade agreements. These agreements offer more flexible, country-specific regulations, additional protection for investments and more effective enforcement options compared to the general standard of the TRIPS Agreement. This emphasises the importance of IP chapters in free trade agreements with partner countries in order to create a level playing field at global level.   

Switzerland has a pioneering role internationally 
In order to ensure an international level playing field, the protection and enforceability of intellectual property at international level is essential. Switzerland has a pioneering role to play in IP protection - in its own interest, especially as key industries depend on it. A high level of awareness among the public and political decision-makers for the protection of intellectual property is important for this.   

Switzerland must not lose its international competitiveness: After all, a creeping erosion of intellectual property protection will have far-reaching negative effects not only on Switzerland as a centre of research and production, but also on the healthcare of the population in future health crises. Switzerland must stand up for this in the relevant bodies and forums at international level.   

However, Switzerland will hardly be able to assert itself at global level on its own. A strong coalition of like-minded states must be formed to protect intellectual property. Only together can core economic interests be effectively defended at international level. 



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