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June 10, 2005
Patent Suspension? Or Let Them Die?
In the US we've been trained to think of patents and copyrights as near god-given universal liberties, but they're not. They're specific rights granted by national governments and international treaties. That which is given can also be taken away, and it looks like Brazil is going to do this in an effort to keep more of its people alive.
As I wrote back in March, intellectual property protection can sometimes come ahead of real people's need to live and stay healthy. In specific, the price and availability of anti-AIDS drugs will determine whether millions of people, particularly in poorer countries, live or die.
Brazil's lower house of parliament has approved a bill to suspend patents on all antiretroviral drugs in order to permit local companies to make cheap generic copies of the drugs. The dispute centers on four specific drugs whose manufacturers have refused to give Brazil price discounts or to license the patents.
Brazil's problem is particularly acute because it has a nationwide free-drug program that attempts to reach all who need the medicine. These four drugs alone eat up 63% of the program's budget. According to research by the Brazilians, one of the drugs is presently being sold for 9.7 times its production cost. Of course the makers cry "research" and fail to mention that they spend more on marketing and advertising than they do on total R&D but let's not get into that. The question at issue once again is - where does intellectual property protection rate when stacked against 155,000 lives in Brazil alone? Should governmental grants of IP protection be absolute or be revokable?
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