...and I don't mean that metaphorically. I don't really have the energy for another Big Thoughts post, but this story deserves a lot more thinking than I've been able to give it. So I place it out here for your consideration.
Bare bones: as a precondition for getting into WTO, India's lower house of parliament has passed a law prohibiting copying of patented drugs. It's expected to go through the upper house and be signed into law shortly.
Unless you've been hiding in a hole for the past few years, you are aware that India is the source for generic copies of life-saving anti-AIDS drugs for literally millions of people in the non-industrialized countries. This bill will put a stop to that for new drugs. If you're up on HIV/AIDS thinking, you know that the virus is very good at developing resistance to drugs and a fairly steady flow of new treatments is needed to combat this.
Opponents such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, fear that the safeguards that are supposed to operate with the new law (potential for compulsory licensing, for example) could be tied up for years in court challenges. Meanwhile, people die.
That's not hysteria. MSF is not some radical anti-WTO group, nor a radical anti-intellectual property organization. They're a group of doctors, on the ground in dozens of countries, treating millions of HIV/AIDS patients for whom the steep drop in prices over the past few years, as Indian-made high quality generics have become widely available, has meant a new lease on living. Raise the prices even a trivial amount (by Western standards) and you put them out of reach of hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention stalling out efforts to get the drugs to millions more who need them.
Now we face the issue - is this an appropriate use of intellectual property protections? Does the right of a corporation to make a profit for its shareholders trump the right of these people to live for a few more years with their disease kept in check? I hate questions like that.
Drug companies pull out the "funding research" card. It is true that income from patented drugs funds research. It also funds a massive advertising and lobby machine. Last I looked, US drug industry spending on advertising exceeded spending on R&D by a significant fraction. On the other hand, I do not believe that public need destroys business considerations completely. I choose to invest my money in companies that behave in what I consider socially responsible fashion, but I agree there are other ways businesses can operate.
A balance is needed. I'm not comfortable with the mental image of lavish boardrooms and skyrocketing company profits (they're consistently the most profitable industry in the US) as a shining metal beacon in a sea of dark-skinned misery, death, and suffering. Conversely, I'm not comfortable with the notion of a national government appropriating the fruits of labor (corporate or individual) because it has determined that these fruits meet a real human need.
And I hate not having an inkling of how to get progress on this issue at a pace that has even a glimmer of hope of keeping up with this global pandemic.