Patents kill

So, it turns out that today is—by edict of WIPOWorld Intellectual Property Day 2005. Among the objectives set out for the day are:

  • To increase understanding of how protecting IP rights helps to foster creativity and innovation;
  • To raise awareness of the importance in daily life of patents, copyright, trademarks and designs.

Well, who could disagree with such educational goals? The Ministries of Culture and Science in this secessionist republic of one applaud the educational purposes of World Intellectual Property day, and offer the following in the effort to raise awareness of the importance in daily life of patents and copyrights, and to make sure that you understand exactly how protecting IP restrictions is fostering creativity and innovation.

Intellectual property restrictions are government-granted monopolies. They have nothing, actually, to do with property rights; what they do is seize ordinary people’s property and hold it hostage to the license-holders’ demands for ransom. They kill innovation because they kill new products; they kill new products because they invade other people’s real property — meaning pens, paper, scanners, computers, DVD players, and so on — in the attempt to lock down ideas — which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources; this amounts to nothing less than a systematic and ruthless intellectual enclosure movement against what is and ought to be the common property of all humanity.

Now, as a techno-geek, I don’t like how this strangles the amazing innovation that we could be seeing in the intelligent use of audio, video, and text content, in this age of cheap computers and plentiful storage. But the plain fact is that this isn’t, really, about what your latest gizmo can or can’t do with your music library, and it’s not a topic for polite debate and economic wonkery. This is life and death. For example, in India recently:

India, a major source of inexpensive AIDS drugs, passed a new patent law yesterday that groups providing drugs to the world’s poorest patients fear will choke off their supply of new treatments.

The new law, amending India’s 1970 Patent Act, affects everything from electronics to software to medicines, and has been expected for years as a condition for India to join the World Trade Organization.

But because millions of poor people in India and elsewhere — including by some estimates half the AIDS patients in the Third World — rely on India’s generic drug industry, lobbyists for multinational drug companies as well as activists fighting for cheap drugs had descended on New Delhi to try to influence the outcome.

It’s very disappointing, but it could have been worse, said Daniel Berman, a coordinator of the global access campaign for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders. All generics could have been removed from the market.

Instead, all the generic drugs already approved in India can still be sold, though sellers must now pay licensing fees. There are also provisions allowing companies that make generics to copy drugs in the future.

But there are relatively tough criteria for such copying, and activists predicted that prices for newly invented drugs will be much higher, because drug makers will have the same 20-year patent monopolies as they have in the West. As AIDS patients develop resistance to old drugs, new treatments will become less affordable, they said.

In addition, it is unclear whether makers of generic drugs in other countries, like Brazil, China and Thailand, will fill any increasing demand for cheaper medicines.

All Western countries grant product patents on new inventions. Since 1970, India has granted process patents, which allow another inventor to patent the same product as long as it was created by a novel process. In pharmaceuticals, that has meant that a tiny tweak in the synthesis of a molecule yields a new patent. Several companies can produce the same drug, creating competition that drives down prices.

Before 1970, India’s patent laws came from its colonial days, and it had some of the world’s highest drug prices. Process patents on drugs, fertilizers and pesticides have extended life expectancy and ended regular famines.

In Africa, exports by Indian companies, especially Cipla and Ranbaxy Laboratories, helped drive the annual price of antiretroviral treatment down from $15,000 per patient a decade ago to about $200 now. They also simplified therapy by putting three AIDS drugs in one pill. Dr. Yusuf Hamied, Cipla’s chairman, called the new law a very sad day for India.

— New York Times 2005-03-24: India Alters Law on Drug Patents

And the same folks want to do the same thing to Latin America, through the adoption of CAFTA:

Found to be HIV-positive shortly before her husband died of AIDS-related complications last fall, an ailing Garcia was convinced of her own death sentence. But generic drugs have kept the virus in check and restored 60 lost pounds to her frame.

I now have hope, said the 52-year-old grandmother and flower vendor, who gets her medicine free from a nonprofit clinic.

Public health experts fear that hope might fade for Garcia and thousands of the region’s chronically ill if the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA, is approved this year.

Under the pact American pharmaceutical giants would gain a five-year edge on the development of new drugs by low-cost competitors. Generic versions of name-brand drugs are the main weapon for battling the AIDS pandemic in the developing world.

Healthcare activists say those intellectual property protections would drive up the cost of treating chronic conditions, particularly HIV/AIDS, sufferers of which routinely develop resistance to old medications. About 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and more than 275,000 of them live in the six Latin American CAFTA nations, according to United Nations statistics.

— LA Times 2005-04-22: AIDS Patients See Life, Death Issues in Trade Pact

Patents kill people. They mean that the pharmaceutical cartel can call up the armed bully-boys of almost every government in the world in order to enforce artificially high prices for their top money-makers; and that means that State violence is being used to prevent affordable, life-saving drugs from reaching the desparately poor of the world. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, the WTO, and upcoming plans such as CAFTA and the FTAA — are slowly cutting back on traditional industrial protectionism while dramatically expanding the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property is not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. It’s about force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to you long after you have stopped putting any particular work into what you’re claiming to be yours. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that you have done unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. You have no right to do that, and you sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture. Patents kill and freedom save people’s lives. This is as simple as it gets. Écrassez l’infâme: écrassez l’etat.

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2 replies to Patents kill Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. thefattomato@hotmail.com

    Patent rights are a human right according to the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, which is why the United Nations created the WIPO, a specialised UN organisation tasked specifically with dealing the issue of inventors and creators being able to secure the moral and material interests which stem from their creations. And since the all the HIV drugs have been created by inventors pursuing the patent incentive, and none have been created by “techno-geeks”, who are you to complain?

  2. Rad Geek

    But Tomato, I don’t care what rights the United Nations thinks ordinary people have. My criticism of patent protectionism is based on a moral appeal, not a legal one; it has nothing to do with the laws made by governments, or the treaties that assembled governments make between each other. If patent protectionism violates basic principles of justice (as I claim that it does), then the fact that the U.N. approves of it counts for precisely nothing as far as the legitimacy of the policy goes.

    Of course, you might think that my moral argument against patent protectionism is somehow mistaken. But then it’s on you to give some indication of where the mistake lies. Just pointing out that the U.N. disagrees with my conclusion is no help.

    And since the all the HIV drugs have been created by inventors pursuing the patent incentive, and none have been created by techno-geeks, who are you to complain?

    If patent protectionism had not existed, then obviously antiretroviral drugs would not have been invented by employees of patent-seeking drug firms. (There would be no patent-seeking drug firms.) But so what? You have no way of knowing that they would not have been invented by somebody else. Do you think that patent-seeking pharma companies are the only way that advanced medical research ever gets done, or ever could get done? If so, I wonder why you think that’s true.

    But, in any case, even if nobody would have invented antiretroviral drugs without the patent system in place, that tells us precisely nothing about how people ought to be able to use the information that is now, actually, for whatever reason, available to them. My argument is that it is morally criminal for Roche, GSK, et al. to enlist State violence in order to shut down people who are peacefully providing life-saving medicine to willing patients. Roche and GlaxoSmithKline and the rest of the gang have no right whatsoever to treat people like that: neither the generic producers nor the patients ever agreed to the terms that the patent-holders are trying to impose, and neither patients nor generic producers owe the Big Pharma companies one red cent for research that they never agreed to foot the bill for.

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