A research programme by the Access to Medicine Foundation

Patents & Licensing

How companies manage their intellectual property (IP) impacts the availability and affordability of medicines. This has been demonstrated by the game-changing engagement between R&D-based manufacturers and generic medicine manufacturers in the global market for HIV/AIDS medicines. Companies have an obligation to manage their IP rights responsibly.

  • Commitments
  • Transparancy
  • Performance
  • Innovation
1 2 GlaxoSmithKline plc
3.10

GlaxoSmithKline plc

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2 4 Merck & Co., Inc.
2.94

Merck & Co., Inc.

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3 1 Gilead Sciences Inc.
2.75

Gilead Sciences Inc.

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4 3 Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.
2.54

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

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5 7 Johnson & Johnson
2.49

Johnson & Johnson

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6 17 Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.
2.46

Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.

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7 5 Merck KGaA
2.42

Merck KGaA

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8 = AbbVie Inc.
2.34

AbbVie Inc.

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9 7 Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH
2.21

Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH

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10 6 AstraZeneca plc
2.04

AstraZeneca plc

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11 9 Eisai Co. Ltd.
1.84

Eisai Co. Ltd.

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12 19 Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd.
1.83

Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd.

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13 12 Novo Nordisk A/S
1.64

Novo Nordisk A/S

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14 13 Astellas Pharma Inc.
1.40

Astellas Pharma Inc.

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15 14 Pfizer Inc.
1.33

Pfizer Inc.

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16 10 Novartis AG
1.29

Novartis AG

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17 15 Eli Lilly & Co.
1.17

Eli Lilly & Co.

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17 11 Roche Holding AG
1.17

Roche Holding AG

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18 = Bayer AG
0.33

Bayer AG

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18 16 Sanofi
0.33

Sanofi

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0 1 2 3 4 5

Top four companies lead through broad licensing approaches

GSK, Merck & Co., Inc. and Gilead take the top three ranks with marginal differences in score. The companies divide into five clusters: three clear leaders, followed by three clusters in the middle, and a lagging group of two. Companies that engage in licensing either through non-exclusive voluntary licensing or non-assert declarations continue to lead. The majority of companies improve in at least one area, particularly around the public disclosure of patent information.


Leaders issue licences with wide geographic scope and pro-access terms

GSK, Merck & Co., Inc., Gilead and Bristol-Myers Squibb lead for different reasons, but all have broad licensing approaches. Merck & Co., Inc. moves into 2nd place. Leaders issue non-exclusive voluntary licences with comparatively wide geographic coverage and more licence terms that promote access to the specific product. Agreements are disclosed publicly. 

GSK (1st) licenses abacavir (Ziagen®) and dolutegravir (Tivicay®), both first-line treatments for HIV/ AIDS on the WHO EML, through the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). Merck & Co., Inc. (2nd) licenses the paediatric formulation of raltegravir (Isentress®) a second-line treatment for HIV/AIDS on the WHO EML, through the MPP. GSK and Merck & Co., Inc. both have a public policy of not filing for or enforcing patents in Least Developed Countries, and both disclose patent information via Pat-INFORMED. 

Gilead (3rd) licenses all its on-patent products for diseases in scope, both directly with generic manufacturers and via the MPP. However, unlike the two leaders, it has no public policy of not filing for or enforcing patents, and shares no public position regarding the TRIPS agreement. Bristol-Myers Squibb (4th) has non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreements in place for two compounds for diseases in scope. Its broadest licence, for atazanavir sulfate (Reyataz®), encompasses 97 countries including 66 middle-income countries in scope. It has not issued any non-assert declarations for products in scope.

While licensing progresses slowly, patent transparency leaps forward

There have been few improvements in licensing since 2016. Two new compounds have been licensed, and licensing practices remain limited to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.* However, the majority of companies (16) newly disclose patent information via the Pat-INFORMED database. 

Takeda and Daiichi Sankyo have risen 11 and 7 places to 6th and 12th, respectively. This is based on a strong shift in transparency regarding their approach to filing for and enforcing patents. Further, both companies publish policy positions relating to such practices in Least Developed Countries, and both publish information about their patents via Pat-INFORMED. They are both engaged in intellectual property (IP) sharing and publicly acknowledge the Doha Declaration. 

Roche and Novartis have both fallen six places to 17th and 16th respectively, mainly due to improvements in performance from peers since 2016.

Middle group delivers mixed results

Companies ranked 4th through 9th (Bristol-Myers Squibb to Boehringer Ingelheim) are tightly packed in terms of the scores achieved but exhibit diverse performances. Four of this pack license or issue non-assert declarations (AbbVie, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Johnson & Johnson). The remainder have variable strengths in terms of their public positions on not filing for or enforcing patents in Least Developed Countries, disclosure of patent statuses and whether they publish a position on the Doha Declaration. 

Companies in the second cluster (ranks 10 to 13) do not engage in licensing (AstraZeneca, Eisai, Daiichi Sankyo and Novo Nordisk), but have strong public positions on not filing for or enforcing patents in Least Developed Countries, disclose patent statuses and publish their positions on the Doha Declaration. The third cluster (Astellas, Pfizer and Novartis) have mixed approaches in terms of their public positioning, licensing and levels of patent disclosure. 

The lowest ranked companies (Bayer and Sanofi, tied in 18th place) disclose very little information about their patents, licences or approaches to IP management; lack public policies on not filing for or enforcing patents; and have no patent transparency, and no public position regarding the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 2001 Doha Declaration on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement and Public Health. 


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View our detailed overview of each company’s performance in the Index, including breakdowns of their product portfolios and R&D pipelines.