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To figure out the extent that public health innovations are protectable under intellectual property (IP) laws, innovations in public health are categorized into groups, each of which is analyzed for applicable legal regimes of intellectual property right (IPR) protection. With the exceptions of diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals, public health innovations that involve physical objects, chemical/biochemical substances, or electronic and computer technologies are most likely to be protectable by patents as well as other IP laws. Certain body movement-oriented innovative activities and many computer-implemented public health innovations may be copyrightable. Other public health innovations may not be fully compatible with IPR protection systems due to incongruence in the subject matters. These include innovations that are basically economic or legal measures, innovations that involve social interactions, and innovations related to research questions, research ideas, research or survey methodology, as well as policy and policy advocacy. Understandably, some of these exclusions reflect the public policy against any hindrance to the spread of medical methods. Other innovations are not recognized or excluded from IPR protection probably because legal development has not caught up with advancement in public health. Policy studies should be designed and conducted, with the initiation and assistance of public health policy bodies, to determine which group of public health innovation should be protected in order to derive positive aggregate social benefits. Protection, if any, could be implemented through expansion or re-interpretation of the scope of existing IP laws or by establishing a new form of exclusive rights.
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