Pharma Patents And Why Indonesia Is Hoarding Bird Flu Samples

from the this-isn't-good-for-health dept

We’ve pointed to plenty of examples concerning how pharmaceutical patents actually do more to hold back life-saving cures, and here’s another example. It’s actually a continuation of a story we wrote about a year and a half ago, about Indonesia’s decision to stop supplying bird flu samples to the World Health Organization, claiming it was worried that a big pharma would patent a drug based off of it, and Indonesia wouldn’t receive any of the benefit. The country has something of a point: as pharma companies have made various cures incredibly expensive in the past.

However, Indonesia is now taking this a step further, claiming “viral sovereignty” over the bird flu. In other words, it’s claiming that since the virus samples are found in the country, Indonesia owns the virus — and it’s fighting pretty much every attempt by others to do anything with the virus, sometimes using questionable claims such as one about how a US medical research facility is trying to use the virus not to create a cure, but to create biological weapons. It’s basing this claim of “viral sovereignty” on the same ridiculous patent rules that allow a country to claim “ownership” and patents over indigenous plants.

While there’s obviously a huge political component to this dispute, at the heart of the trouble is this idea of “ownership” of something like a plant, virus or drug — and that’s an idea that the US has been a huge supporter of, so it can hardly complain about Indonesia taking it to the logical conclusion. And, of course, that logical conclusion is the exact opposite of what supporters of pharma patents insist the system is designed to encourage. That is, thanks to this hoarding and claims of ownership, not nearly enough research is being done to try to create vaccines for bird flu. And, to make this even worse, it appears other countries are starting to consider “viral sovereignty,” as well — meaning that research into curing various diseases may grind to halt while various countries argue over who owns what.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Pharma Patents And Why Indonesia Is Hoarding Bird Flu Samples”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

eh.. its just like any natural resource. if it’s found naturally, and worth something, why shouldn’t the country it’s found in get a royalty for it? what that money gets used for is another story (local pharma or to support local services), but it’s not ridiculous to say that the people of a country where such a thing exists should get a piece of any money made from it.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re:

But unlike other resources, they are claiming “IP” over the natural resource.

This is not the same thing whatsoever. Yes, they can collect the samples and sell them, that’s completely appropriate.

No other country that has/sells natural resources goes around claiming patents on the DNS of their trees/minerals/metals/etc… (Well, there is Monsanto I guess…)

Allen (profile) says:

Fire with fire

I’m not going to assume that their motives are necessarily greed.

I suspect the root cause of this idea is that they are afraid that the cure, once found will be patented and priced beyond the means of most Indonesians.

If I’m right, then they’re fighting fire with fire, which can work, but carries an element of risk. It would be bitter irony if in posturing to ensure equitable access to vaccines developed from the samples they delay it’s development to the point that it that pandemic occurred before the vaccine was ready.

The idea of owning a virus isnt all that crazy when compared to some of the things that you can patent.

CastorTroy-Libertarian, Lover, General Annoyance f says:

Crazy Thought

So if Bird Flu mutates or starts killing people in other countries, what will Indonesia do? “There” property has escaped and done damage, and if all the other countries and Pharma companies recongnize that Bird Flu is thier Property and pay a small Royality, they are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Your “property” runs amok, you get sued into the grave yard. Just imagine a entire country in Debt to one person in another Country for Billions… Seems like a sound strategy to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think it’s fair to say Indonesia is going to absolutely prevent anyone from making a cure for their virus (that would be nuts), but they probably just want to make sure they get something out of such a cure. Pharma companies will pay for this; they just don’t want to. I see this whole thing more as a defensive patent move. Yes, yes, the system is totally fubar, but they’re doing what they can to protect themselves and that’s fair, given the system they’re in.

Josh from Canada says:


For #6 and #9 (and to everyone else in general), it seems that the big part of both your lines of thinking is that pharma patents are a part of the “problem”. I’m pretty sure that would be good evidence for either doing away with or greatly weakening pharma patents. Then Indonesia wouldn’t have to go to any “defensive” measures like trying to “own” a virus.

Scote (profile) says:

“For #6 and #9 (and to everyone else in general), it seems that the big part of both your lines of thinking is that pharma patents are a part of the “problem”. I’m pretty sure that would be good evidence for either doing away with or greatly weakening pharma patents. Then Indonesia wouldn’t have to go to any “defensive” measures like trying to “own” a virus.”

Doing away with patents might be a good idea, but then Indonesia might hoard the samples as a “trade secret” and still hold out for some sort of payment.

oregonnerd (user link) says:

and even foreseen

James Blish, Cities In Flight. Publication date sometime in the ’50’s I think. Perhaps the best possible example of the consequences of attempting to restrict knowledge is the role the Catholic church played in the Middle Ages, and what happened once the fences fell. …And then I think how simplistic a statement that is–which again seems to apply to the case. However, a world in which a man can have a tumor removed (naturally paying for the removal) and the doctor doing the removal makes millions off the tumor… I don’t know. It just seems a bit strange to me, at times. Maybe I should go out and shake hands with a car.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...