US Gov't Tells Developing Nations That Patents & High Prices Are Good For The Health Of Their Citizens

from the oh-really-now? dept

There have been plenty of studies showing how — especially in developing nations — patents for pharmaceuticals serve to keep important drugs (which are cheap to manufacture) out of reach of the patients who need them most. In large part, because of this, various world bodies have accepted the idea that nations may decide to ignore patents in the interest of public health and safety. And that appears to work and be helpful. For example, we were just discussing how such generic copies were helpful in massively reducing the price of key drugs in India. And, no, this did not mean that the original manufacturer was unable to profit. This was on a drug where the company (Bayer) had made many times over its investment around the globe already, yet was still pricing the drug at over $5,000, while the generics were coming in at between $100 and $200.

There have been so many studies on this that you’d have to be either ignorant or deceitful to suggest that such a plan was a problem.

So I’m trying to figure out which adjective should apply to the USPTO, who recently gave a talk to a WIPO committee on the issue of patents and health, in which they argued that such efforts actually did more harm than good, and the way to keep people safe in developing countries was to increase patent protection:

There is no easy solution to these problems. Reducing patent protection is not likely to solve these thorny issues…. To the contrary, the lack of effective patent protection can be one of the many factors which prevent the appropriate medicines from reaching the neediest patients in DC and LDCs. Weakening the patent rights granted to pharmaceutical researchers and manufacturers in certain markets not only removes or reduces the incentive to develop new medicines, but also reduces the incentives for innovative medicine developers to invest in those countries and harness their innovation to solving the public health challenges that disproportionately affect developing countries, and are not being solved in other ways.

This statement is hogwash. First of all, there’s nothing stopping these companies from profiting greatly in the developed world with these drugs, as they do already. And the idea that they wouldn’t, say, invest in India if they could only get $100 per drug rather than $5,000… well, who cares? Considering how much more of these drugs they’d sell at those lower prices, there would still be plenty of profit to go around. Apparently, the folks at the USPTO have never learned a thing about price elasticity. Second, if a big pharma is too stupid to know how to provide drugs (which are relatively cheap to manufacture) at a reasonable cost for a profit, it seems pretty freaking natural that other companies are willing to step in and offer generics. So, really, why should anyone care if, say, Bayer decides to ignore India because it wants $5,000 for pills that others are willing to sell at $120? We’re talking about the health and safety of the public, not Bayer.

Weakening patent protection for innovative medicines is not a productive approach to improving availability of health care, because many other factors other than patents more directly affect the availability of medicines.

The proof of the weakness of that argument is that although most medicines on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines are not protected by patents, their availability in many markets is still limited. This is particularly true in DC/LDCs. Many other factors affect the availability of all medicines, patented or not.

This is a nice bit of sleight of hand, confusing correlation with causation. No one says that a lack of patents means that such drugs are automatically made available in every market. But it takes a truly demented view of the world to take that fact and assume that such drugs would be more widely available if only those non-patented drugs were in fact covered by patent.

From there, the USPTO proposed a study to show how wonderful patents are in getting drugs to poor countries, to “restore balance to the discussion by evaluating the role of patent protection in providing incentives for research and development….” Funny how they were just talking about drugs that were off-patent not being available… but now they ignore that and it’s all about new drug development. But, more seriously, I find it absolutely hilarious that the USPTO wants to talk about “restoring balance.” This is an organization that has always pushed for “more patents” at pretty much any cost. The whole software industry is facing a massive crisis of gridlocked development over bogus patents. If we’re going to start “restoring balance” to the patent system, let’s start at home.

This kind of stuff is really sickening, because it’s basically the USPTO saying that poor people around the globe should suffer and die if helping them doesn’t produce enough profits for big pharmaceutical conglomerates. I don’t know how people taking that position can sleep at night.

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Companies: bayer

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Comments on “US Gov't Tells Developing Nations That Patents & High Prices Are Good For The Health Of Their Citizens”

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Nathan F (profile) says:

*sigh* Today is just chock full of “WTF! *facepalm* moments. TV Stations suing a company for copyright infringement for an automated fast forward button and their inability to adapt to the changing market. Lawmakers insisting that Google broke the law by ‘wiretapping’ an open wifi link, even though the relevant federal agency already said they weren’t breaking the law. Microsoft filing DMCA take downs with their competitor but leaving the links up on their own search engine..

The full moon was last weekend.. what in the world is going on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Uh-huh, sure. And up is the new down.

Let’s see if the politics of the “developing nations”* are as totally corrupt as the politics of the USof$ and the people of the “developing nations”* are as mentally controlled as the people of the USof$.

Do any of you actually think that these people give a flying fuck about anything other than money?

*Given whom we’re talking about, we know immediately that “developing nations” can only mean “financially developing nations”.

Anonymous Coward says:

they sleep very well, next to a drawer full of tablets that they get for free.

so who wrote this horse shit paper and who read it out? two different people, i’ll bet!

how any company that makes products to keep people alive, fight illness or to improve peoples health can have such scant regard for those same people, without whom the companies wouldn’t exist, is beyond me

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To be fair, the researchers working on these problems almost certainly do care. It’s the bureaucrats running the companies who make most of the money and couldn’t care less. Researchers can’t access the equipment, grants, and field trials they need without partnering with a larger entity, which is usually a university department in the pocket of a pharma company or a pharma company itself or a research hospital (of which there are relatively few).

squirrel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Ginger Games

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides — excuse me — I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think (which is probably making this harder) that their reasoning would be that by allowing generic drugs into the market, there would be less oversight and higher potential for the generic company to cut the drug with some cheaper, less safe filler or less of the active ingredients. That would lead to the potential of improper dosages and/or other side effects that may cause complications.

But the way I look at it, I’d rather pay the $10 I could barely afford for a 50% of improvement, rather then the unaffordable $500 which would lead to a 0% improvement.

This also sort of reminds me of that old joke about the guy that went into a store and sees pencils for $1 millon each. He says to the storekeeper, “You’ll never sell many of those”, to which the storekeeper replies “I only need to sell 1.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I meant spend $10 for a 50% chance of improvement, rather then the unaffordable $500 which would leave me with a relative 0% chance of improvement, since I couldn’t afford to buy it.

The 50% was a number pulled out of my ass to represent a 50/50 chance I’d get a fake (placebo) or inefficient drug due to lack of regulation/oversight, which is what I think the big drug companies are trying to claim will happen. Also assuming that the “real” drug has a 100% chance of recovery.

Digitari says:


I worked at a Pharmaceutical Company, we did IN HOUSE R&D the cost of production of 1000 (one thousand) tablets was……

…wait for it………

00.01, yes that is a PENNY, one onehundrendth of a US Dollar, Granted that was 7 years ago so maybe it has inflated to 00.02$ now with inflation and all, I was making 18.00$ running the press. the “small” company I worked for only made 6 million $ Profit a year.

Reminder we did R&D in house and that WAS figured into cost of production.

(and yes, I did quit my job,due to insomnia)

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it’s pretty clear the big western pharma companies are worried that local companies will not only undersell them in DCs but will also begin to export to more developed nations to serve the market of uninsured or underinsured. Unless they kill the compulsory licensing plans now, they’ll have to fight that battle at the border and in full view of a public that has a lot more control over what happens to the companies themselves. It’s easier to be evil far from home.

Anonymous Coward says:

A UN body now becomes the fora to start insilting developing countries on their patent laws (or lack of)? – well, if these same countries just lie there and role over, then why not? There a few India’s out there. Most of these developing countries will adapt yheir laws if they are paid to lobby their govts. We doubt the patents wars are bavl.erhaps more dangeros and not getting the attention of all s the fact that WIPO is inviting big food conglomerates to is premises with companies like monsanto preaching to them about food security. This now will be dsastrous for the developing countries – just like in the US, if they cnnot re-use their seeds because of the sui generis natur of rtection on these, then you willl what is happening in the UU happen in Africa, Asia and perhaps Latin America. Al under the rubrick of Food Security. Dooms day nears.

Mega1987 (profile) says:

Patents and High price tag = good health?

Yeah… it’s true… For those people Who can ACTUALLY afford them in those nation.

For those other people below a certain class level, especially the poor and the homeless, They’re expected to die a slow but painful death by these pharmaceutical companies who only think of their own PROFIT than to SAVE lives…

Just make sure you fools can stomach the fact that you just SENTENCE at least a HUNDRED, if not a THOUSAND man, woman and children to their deaths just to save a HANDFUL, I repeat, a HANDFUL in those developing countries.

John Thacker (profile) says:

The claims about generics being unsafe are hogwash. But statements like this, Mike:

This was on a drug where the company (Bayer) had made many times over its investment around the globe already,

also make it very clear that you either don’t understand the argument that you’re criticizing, or you’re being dishonest.

The vast majority of drug R&D fails. The vast majority of ideas and targets fail. Therefore, to have a drug industry at all, it simply must be the case that successful drugs pay not just for themselves, but for all the failures, so they must pay for themselves many times over.

The drug industry does not make enormous profits. Not on the total amount of capital invested. (And no, complaining about marketing and advertising driving up price is generally silly as well; both of those things are supposed to make money, not cost it.)

Of course the drug industry makes the argument about future drugs. That’s the only reason argument in favor of patents.

One reason why the drug companies concentrate on drugs that treat lifestyle diseases or simply diseases of the fairly well-off is that they know that those will be paid for. Drugs that affect diseases of developing countries they know people like you will advocate for reduced prices and reduce patent protection as soon as they are invented. Time consistency is a tricky concept.

Either argument could be correct, but do realize, Mike, that if the argument about future drug production is correct, that you are the one condemning more people to die in the future because of wanting to save a smaller number of people today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Generic companies never innovate new treatments. They are, by design, incapable of bringing a new drug to market. Of course, once a patent expires, they are essential competitors in making a treatment widespread and affordable.

The true innovators risk their companies, their employees, their investors and ultimately thousands of patients on the often thin hope that their drug will work. It is a horrible calculus, pricing today’s treatment to develop tomorrow’s cure. A long list of diseases flourish because no one can finance the development of the “orphan” drugs available to treat them.

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