GlaxoSmithKline has promised not to seek patent protection on medicines in low-income countries as part of a range of measures by the UK drugmaker to widen access to its products in the developing world.

The proposals would allow generic manufacturers to produce low-cost copies of GSK drugs in poor countries without risk of legal challenge, writes Andrew Ward.

GSK said it was introducing a “graduated approach” to intellectual property under which it would defend its patents in high and middle income countries but progressively loosen its protections in poorer parts of the world.

Sir Andrew Witty, GSK chief executive, said IP protection remained a vital incentive for investment in research and development but a more flexible approach was needed to meet rising global demand for healthcare.

GSK has been a leader among big pharma groups in efforts to widen access to medicines in the developing world. Thursday’s announcement appeared to signal an attempt by Sir Andrew to cement this legacy before he steps down next year after almost a decade as chief executive.

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