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Abstract

Much of today’s international trade is conducted according to trade agreements that involve substantial and uniform protections of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights are a socio-economic tool that create a temporary monopoly for inventor firms and enable such firms to charge prices for their innovations that are many times higher than the marginal cost of production of the innovations. This allows the inventor firms to salvage their research-costs and secure a profit on their innovations. A large body of contemporary philosophical and interdisciplinary literature suggests that intellectual property rights give rise to a number of ethical problems. This review paper seeks to give an overview of what these problems are. It also offers an outline of proposals as to how these problems might be alleviated, and it briefly explains the two classical defenses of the ethical permissibility of intellectual property rights. The ethical issues surrounding intellectual property rights are most pertinent when it is socially valuable goods that are given intellectual property protection. The discussions in this paper revolve around just one product type in order to bring out the broader ethical issues surrounding intellectual property rights. In line with much contemporary literature on the ethical dimensions of intellectual property rights, the product type in question is life-saving medicines.