AIDS activists have put access to medicines for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in very poor countries on the top of the agenda of world leaders. President Bush and members of Congress are competing to see who will propose greater contributions to a global fund that will purchase AIDS drugs for developing countries, pharmaceutical companies are unveiling new charity programs daily, and the U.N. will hold a special session on AIDS next week.

Now a broader proposal would stimulate access by poor countries to therapies for common diseases like cancer. Jean Lanjouw, a Yale University assistant professor of economics who is a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution, argues that U.S. patent law can be used to facilitate access to therapies by people in the poorest countries