Posts tagged CAFTA

Patents kill, part IV

Here’s some passages from a great letter to the editor of the Daily Herarld (Sint Maarten, Dutch Caribbean), by my friend and fellow C4SSer Nathan Goodman.

Deadly Contradictions: Patent Privilege vs. Saving Lives

In his 2013 State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama claims that the U.S. will help end extreme poverty by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths, and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the president directly contradicted these goals earlier in his speech by pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is typically presented as a free trade agreement, but there’s one type of trade barrier it proposes to strengthen: Intellectual property. Patents and other forms of intellectual property restrict trade by granting monopolies on the sharing of an idea or the manufacture of a product. Intellectual property makes it illegal to use your own personal property to manufacture a product and sell it on the market once the state has defined the very idea of that product as someone else’s property.

Intellectual property harms consumers by raising prices. For some goods this is just an economic cost. But when it comes to medicine, the price increases associated with pharmaceutical patents cost lives.

As Judit Rius Sanjuan of Doctors Without Borders says, Policies that restrict competition thwart our ability to improve the lives of millions with affordable, lifesaving treatments. . . . The Trans-Pacific Partnership would expand these already deadly patent monopolies, further restricting access to lifesaving medicines. Tido von Schoen-Angerer of Doctors Without Borders wrote in 2011 that leaked papers reveal a number of U.S. objectives: to make it impossible to challenge a patent before it is granted; to lower the bar required to get a patent (so that even drugs that are merely new forms of existing medicines, and don’t show a therapeutic improvement, can be protected by monopolies); and to push for new forms of intellectual property enforcement that give customs officials excessive powers to impound generic medicines suspected of breaching IP. Each of these provisions would use government force to prevent poor people from accessing medicine.

It’s clear that entrenching patent monopolies contradicts Obama’s stated goals of saving the world’s children from preventable deaths and realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation. . . . Contradictions like this are nothing new for the state. While politicians repeatedly promise to protect public health, they have long used coercive power to raise medical costs, sacrificing public health for private profits. The state has long justified its power with the language of the public good, all while wielding that power to protect privilege.

If we really care about “saving the world’s children from preventable deaths” and “realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation,” we must end this murderous collusion between state and corporate power.

We must smash the state and its deadly contradictions.

— Nathan Goodman, Deadly Contradictions: Patent Privilege vs. Saving Lives, in The Daily Herald (February 18, 2013)

Read the whole thing. Many thanks to Nathan for a great letter on an important point.

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 desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, and now the TPP — selectively cut back on traditional industrial protectionism, but they simultaneously dramatically expand the scale, scope, and deadly reach of intellectual protectionism.

To hell with that. Intellectual property and patent privileges are not about incentivizing or encouraging or opportunities. Patents about pure, invasive force: invading other people’s property to force them to render long-term rents to corporate monopolists, long after the inventors have brought their ideas to market and long after they’ve stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer incremental innovations based on the work that the patent holders control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They are tyrannical embargoes on creative intelligence, and prohibitions on the natural capacity to peacefully imitate, emulate and bring competing goods to market. Patnet holders have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.

Also.

Patents kill, part III

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Patents kill people.

Patent restrictions, inflicted in the name of intellectual property, are in reality nothing more than government-granted monopolies — granted in a deliberate effort to lock down ideas, which are, by nature, non-rivalrous resources, discoverable and available to all without conflict, deprivation or exclusion. This effort to monopolize access to human knowledge, and to extract monopoly profits for a term of years, can operate only by forbidding anyone else to peacefully produce — to imitate, duplicate, independently develop, or make improvements on the margin, to new technology and potentially life-saving discoveries. It has nothing to do with protecting property, and everything to do with protecting corporate power at the expense of massive invasions on property — on the equal liberty of generic competitors to make use of their own resources, computers, labs, chemicals and plants to produce and to market similar wares. In the industries dominated by patent privilege, incumbent trans-national corporations, like Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, ransom their fattened profits from legally-secured captive markets, and do it ultimately at the expense, not just of would-be competitors, but also at the expense of those who depend on patent-encumbered technologies for their well-being, their health, or their lives. When this is done to relatively privileged people and useful or enjoyable technologies, this is a crude form of protectionism, and an exploitative burden for the benefit of entrenched capitalists. When it is done to the poorest, most marginalized, and most desperate people, it is an obscene and lethal crime. And that’s what’s happened — just what’s happend — with pharmaceutical corporations’ protected monopolies on antiretroviral drugs for HIV in Africa. Patents kill. They killed millions in the last two decades alone, that open competition and lower prices could have saved. And this crime against humanity was inflicted knowingly, deliberately, not just by Big Pharma — they had no power to stop generics; they couldn’t have done it alone — but by the concerted effort of the United States government, the E.U. governments, the World Trade Organization, and WTO-controlled client states throughout the developing world. Due to the TRIPS protocols on international patents and copyrights — negotiated in the Uruguay Round of GATT and enforced through the World Trade Organization — neo-liberal trade agreements became the key mechanism for a deliberate international governmental campaign to protect the industrial structure of corporate capitalism, even though it meant suppressing the production and trade of affordable HIV drugs in the global South, and even though this inevitably meant millions of preventable deaths.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. . . . As we turn now to another film about what some have described as the crime of the century. The new documentary, Fire in the Blood, explores how major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the United States, prevented tens of millions of people in the developing world from receiving affordable generic AIDS drugs. Millions died as a result. This is a part of the trailer of Fire in the Blood.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Over two million people were reported to have died in that year alone.

YUSUF HAMIED: The whole of Africa was being taken for a ride.

BILL CLINTON: It’s fine for people in rich countries to say this is what it ought to be. They don’t have to live in these little villages and watch people die like flies.

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not.

DONALD McNEIL: You fight our patent monopolies, we will make sure you die.

NELSON MANDELA: As long as drugs are not available to everybody, he will not take them.

JAMES LOVE: It was just kind of a crisis of humanity. People just weren’t really human for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Fire in the Blood, the film tracing how Big Pharma refused to allow countries to break patents and allow for the importation of cheap generic AIDS drugs. The problem continues today, as the World Trade Organization continues to block the importation of generic drugs in many countries because of a trade deal known as the TRIPS Agreement. Fire in the Blood just had its North American premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.

For more, we’re joined by two guests: Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, based in Mumbai, India, and Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan AIDS doctor featured in the film, recognized as one of the world’s foremost specialists and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. He played a key role in founding Uganda’s HIV/AIDS Joint Clinical Research Centre, and is author of a new book, Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dylan, let’s begin with you, why you made this film.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, basically, I think the story sort of came to me by accident, to be honest. I was working on a film in Sri Lanka in 2004, and I had a day off and just happened to read an article in The Economist, of all things, which—it struck me as very interesting, because it was about one of the characters in our film, Dr. Yusuf Hamied, who’s an Indian generic drug maker, and it was talking about how he was bringing in low-cost antiretroviral medications to Africa. Yet it seemed something interesting was going on beneath the surface. It seemed like this was obviously, you know, to my mind, a very good thing that he was doing, but they were going out of their way, I felt, to attack him, but it wasn’t clear why. So, it piqued my interest. And, you know, not long later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hamied. And through him, I met several of the other people that became contributors to the film.

And I used to be in the academic world, and, you know, the historian in me was just completely shocked and scandalized that, A, I didn’t know more about the story, and, B, that there was so little written about it or, you know, there were no comprehensive accounts of what had happened—you know, something that had killed 10, 12 million people, and it seemed to have happened almost without a record. So, you know, the impetus to make the film, primarily, was actually to create a record, a memorial and a chronicle of what happened. And as you say, I mean, we consider this to be the crime of the century.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi is featured in the film. And it’s an honor to have you here with us—

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —before you head back home to Uganda, where you had been imprisoned, jailed, as you tried to bring generic drugs into Uganda, to get these drugs at a cheaper amount. Explain what Dr. Hamied did, this—I mean, what Cipla, the head of Cipla did, this drug company, how he challenged the rest of the world in saying he would cut the prices of AIDS drugs from—what was it? The amount that people would have to pay for the triple cocktail, before and after Hamied?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, there was a misinformation, worldwide misinformation, that AIDS drugs were too expensive to manufacture. The second misinformation that was there was that Africans would not be able to use these drugs, that it was impossible to use these drugs in the African condition. Dr. Hamied called the bluff of all of those who were propagating this false information that cost so many lives of people.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, he just literally announced that it is not true that these drugs can only be manufactured at such an exorbitant cost. He demonstrated that they could be demonstrated at relatively affordable cost, which would save millions of lives because of affordability. So it was the issue of affordability and access where Hamied came in and acted.

AMY GOODMAN: So before him, drug companies were charging like $15,000 for a year for one patient to get a triple cocktail for the year. And he cut that price to less than a dollar a day? $15,000 to $350 for the year?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Yes, and that action was incredible. For the first time, millions of people who were dying stopped dying in Africa, because they started accessing life-saving drugs.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end up in jail in Uganda?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, it was—I was arrested, but I was rescued because Uganda government was concerned about the plight of the citizens who were dying in such a big number. So an emergency meeting that rescued me from arrest took place in front of the government ministers, and at that meeting I made it clear: I said to the meeting that, Look, your relatives are dying of AIDS. Your citizens are dying of AIDS. I’m a doctor working among the AIDS patients, and I have no tools to save my patients’ lives. All I have done is to import affordable drugs, which will increase access. These drugs are at the airport. They are under your care. You can block them from coming in, but as far as I’m concerned, I have done my job of bringing life-saving drugs to Uganda. And I think they understood. And every one of them had relatives who were suffering from AIDS, or at least a friend whom they knew who had died from AIDS. And so, this was—it was not very difficult to convince them that this action was necessary, and I needed to be out saving lives with drugs instead of being arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: Another of the heroes in the fight to bring life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients is Zackie Achmat of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign. In 1999, Achmat, who is HIV-positive, went on a treatment strike in solidarity with others who couldn’t afford medication. He’s featured in Fire in the Blood.

ZAKIE ACHMAT: If my sisters or brothers or cousins had HIV or had AIDS and needed medicines, they wouldn’t have been able to get it. And I grew up in a house where your mom would say, If all the kids can’t have chocolate, one is not going to have it.

NARRATOR: Having made up his mind, Zackie Achmat announced that he would boycott antiretrovirals until the South African government made them available to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Dylan Mohan Gray, talk about the significance of Zackie Achmat and what the whole issue of patents is about in these U.S. companies.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, Zackie Achmat, as you said, is one of the great heroes of this story. And I think the boycott that he undertook, very much with a sort of a Gandhian impetus in mind, you know, it was a very deliberate action that he took. And as he says in the film, you know, he grew up in a family where his mother said, if one child couldn’t have chocolate, then none of the children were going to get it. And that’s a very simple way of looking at it, but that’s something I think we can all identify with. He grew up, you know, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, a very strong sense of solidarity with his fellow man. And, you know, he could easily have accessed the drugs, because he was an internationally known activist, but he said, No, I’m not going to do it. And he came very close to death by taking that decision. And I think, you know, it had a very, very big impact on waking people, especially in the Western world, up to the reality of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. So, you know, the gamble paid off, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Say that last part.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: I said the gamble paid off. I feel like his gamble that he took—I mean, he risked his life—but in a sense, the gamble paid off, because the impact of what he did, you know, had repercussions throughout the world and woke a lot of people up to the situation of access to medicine in Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain how the patents work.

DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: A patent is a government-granted monopoly or a grant of exclusivity which is given to companies, generally, or individuals, with the idea that by giving a period of the exclusivity, one would incentivize investment. So, what typically happens with pharmaceutical companies is they will purchase technology from others, whether it be universities or small biotech companies or other small innovative outfits, and they will then commercialize these products. And because they will have a monopoly for a period of time, usually a minimum of 20 years, they will be able to set the price at any level they wish. And we have the former vice president of Pfizer in our film, who says very openly the concept is to maximize revenue. It has nothing to do with the cost of research and development.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi, what needs to happen right now, in these last 30 seconds?

DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, what needs to happen is the realization that an inequitable, unethical situation exists with the related TRIPS Agreement, and that lives, millions of lives, are at stake unless this TRIPS Agreement and patents issue are addressed—not to hurt business, but to make sure that they do not hurt patients and result in a bloodbath, that we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi from Uganda and Dylan Mohan Gray, director of the new film that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, Fire in the Blood.

I’m glad this movie has come out — it’s important, and it’s important that people are talking about this. My one reservation is that, when I watched this clip, it took some serious jaw-clenching not to scream out loud when the filmmakers brought William Jefferson Clinton, political philanthropist and ex-President of the United States, on screen to moralize and to lecture us about the HIV crisis in Africa. Of course the crisis is appalling, and the result of policies which are deeply immoral. But whose policies? Just who do they think negotiated and signed TRIPS? The AIDS crisis is a crime inflicted on Africa by governments, and at the head of the most powerful government inflicting it were President Clinton, his administration, and his successors. He and they have blood on their hands.

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 desparate and the poor. The multilateral so-called free trade agreements of the past couple decades — NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO — 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 corporate monopolists, long after they have stopped putting any particular work into what they are claiming to be theirs. A necessary corollary is that it also means invading those who offer innovations based on the work that they control, unless those innovations comply with a very narrow set of guidelines for authorized use. They have no right to do that, and they sure don’t have the right to do it at the expense of innocent people’s lives. A free society needs a free culture, free knowledge and free technology. Patents kill and freedom saves people’s lives. This is as dead simple as it gets. To hell with state monopolies; to hell with state capitalism.

Also.

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.

Further reading