International conventions before TRIPS did not specify minimum standards for patents. Over 40 countries provided no patent protection for pharmaceuticals, many provided only process and not product patents, and the duration of patents was much less than 20 years in many countries.
From the health sector’s perspective, intellectual property standards, including those specified in TRIPS, should take protection of public health into account. However, current standards - historically derived from those of developed countries - are not necessarily appropriate for countries struggling to meet health and development needs. Developing countries can therefore use the flexibility of TRIPS provisions and its safeguards to protect public health.