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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

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March 18, 2010

More IP That Kills

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Long-time readers may remember that I have a particular problem with the use of intellectual property rules in ways that lead to more real tangible harm. In particular, the use of patents around drugs for life-threatening illnesses presents problematic cases and seems to lead to bad behavior.

On the one hand, it's very clear to me that profit potential and protection for discoveries is a crucial part of the reward system that encourages businesses to take the (often large) financial risks necessary to find, test, and develop new medicines. On the other, there's a serious moral case to be made that the pursuit of profit should not always or automatically trump the needs of people whose lives are at risk.

Today brings another reminder (almost a year to the day after my last post on this topic) that the dilemma is far from resolved. MSF published a response in the New York Times to an op ed piece. In their response, they argue that the potentially increased intellectual property protection in proposed health care legislation would slow or block the development of generic versions of key drugs. Again.

It's sad that this many years on we still don't have a good national (or even international) regime for helping both sides. Companies need good markets and a way to recoup their costs. People need existing life-saving medicines, and new innovations brought to production as quickly as safety allows. These don't seem like incompatible goals, to me.

(Full disclosure: I'm a financial donor to MSF and friends of mine have done volunteer work for them.)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


COMMENTS

1. Robert Scott Lawrence on March 29, 2010 7:04 PM writes...

It is a bit of a moral dilemma, isn't it? Do we let corporations patent things that -- being patented -- then obstruct the further advance of human knowledge? Or the advance of medicine? There was a decision that came down today nullifying a patent on genes related to the prevention of breast cancer. Story at http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/judge-nullifies-gene-patents/

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2. DrWex on March 31, 2010 2:53 PM writes...

Yeah I read the news stories on that, but I haven't read the decision myself. I think what the court is trying to do (prevent people monopolizing natural sequences) is probably a good thing but I'm not certain the reasoning in this specific decision is the right way to go about it.

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3. MZ on April 13, 2010 9:39 AM writes...

Well, I would lean towards a Pirate Party's (at least Polish division) view of the problem. Let's decompose the financial process of drug research:

1. A company invests money and begins a research process. It may receive subsidies from taxpayers' money.

2. Drug is tested... but it also needs some taxpayers' money to be approved for sale.

3. Profit gets monopolized to the said company due to patents, even though some money came from the state.

4. Drug is expensive, and therefore is subsided from taxpayers' money or compulsory social insurance - it gives the company another reason to set ridiculously high price - the drug isn't directly paid for by patient, is it?

As you can see, the taxpayers and patients are screwed everey time.

Instead, state could:
a) forbid patenting of drugs entirely
b) fully finance the research
c) every skilled and equipped pharmacological/chemical plant could produce the medicine creating real competition

...here, taxpayers pays just once. The medication's price cannot be set to high because of competition. In almost every case the medicine becomes affordable for everyone in need.

That's what Thailand did about HIV drugs - they decided that trade traties are less important than lives - at market prices, monthly therapy cost dropped from $700 to $30 - more than 20 times.

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