Luc Montagnier, director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, shared half the award with Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Institut Pasteur for their work in pinpointing the cause of the disease.
The other half was won by Harald zur Hausen of the University of Dusseldorf and a former director of the German Cancer Research Centre, for work on the cause of cervical cancer.
On receiving the honour which comes with an £800,000 cash prize, Montagnier, 76, said a treatment could be possible in the future with a "therapeutic" rather than preventive vaccine for which results might be published in three or four years if financial backing is forthcoming.
A therapeutic vaccine prevents disease from flourishing after it has taken hold.
"I think it will be possible with a therapeutic vaccine rather than preventative vaccinations. We would give it to people who are already infected," he said
The Nobel recognition comes 25 years after Montagnier and his team at the French Pasteur Institute, including Barre-Sinoussi, discovered HIV in his Paris laboratory.
"The discovery was one prerequisite for the current understanding of the biology of the disease and its antiretroviral treatment," the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement.
The other half of the Nobel prize was awarded for the German scientist’s research that "went against current dogma" and set forth that oncogenic human papilloma virus (HPV) caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women.
"His discovery has led to characterization of the natural history of HPV infection, an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV acquisition," the Assembly said.
Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year.
The prizes for achievement in science, literature and peace were first awarded in 1901 in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel.
The economics prize is a later addition, established by the Swedish Riksbank in 1968.
The Nobel laureate for physics will be announced tomorrow, followed by the chemistry Nobel on Wednesday, literature on Thursday and the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in Oslo.