Abstract: Public health advocates aim to maximise affordable access to good quality essential medicines. This goal often conflicts with the profit-seeking ambitions of the pharmaceutical industry. Since the World Trade Organisation's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement, the extension and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights has become the dominant discourse in global medicines governance. Public health advocates operating within this framework face significant obstacles and challenges. This paper presents an historical perspective to the contemporary debate over medicines and patents by examining the evolution of international medicines governance between the 1940s and 1970s. This research indicates that debates around IP and medicines were more advanced in terms of equity and access in the 1960s and 1970s than they are today. While acknowledging the existence of obstacles and challenges for advocates, the paper argues that alternative frameworks can and should be reasserted in global debates about medicines governance.