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March 20, 2009
Is Silence the Price of Patents?
I've written in this blog about the drug industry before, most emotionally in regards to the dangers to life posed by intellectual property restrictions in copying AIDS medication. I've also noted that drugs, which rely most heavily on patent protection, tend to lead to higher-quality patents than we see issued in the software field.
Patents, unlike copyrights, have not had their term of exclusivity repeatedly extended. Thus, drug companies are continually faced with the expiration deadlines of patents on huge money-making drugs. Sometimes they resort to frivolous lawsuits to keep generics off the shelf.
Other times, it seems, they just flat-out lie. In a sad story published in this week's Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam describes a series of studies that were silenced by drug maker AstraZeneca International.
The purpose of these lies of omission was to remove possible roadblocks to approval of a new drug (Seroquel) that was set to replace an expiring old drug. I find it inconceivable that the series of events reported here is unique. This is almost certainly indicative of a pattern of behavior that, in very real terms, put the acquisition of intellectual property - and the riches that flowed from that - above the health and safety of everyone.
It's ironic to me that I'm writing this note almost exactly four years after my first impassioned note about IP killing people. Seems we're slower to learn than I had hoped.
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