The Public Paid For Moderna’s mRNA Vaccine Tech; The Fact That Moderna Is Suing Over The Patent Is A Travesty
from the greedy dept
You may have heard last week that Moderna is suing Pfizer, claiming that Pfizer’s COVID vaccine violates Moderna’s patents. You can read the legal complaint which is full of bluster about how brilliant Moderna is and how it saved the world and blah blah blah. While it does mention that Moderna teamed up with the National Institutes for Health, it leaves out that it was the US taxpayer and US government employees who were critical in helping Moderna develop its mRNA technology.
We covered this last year when Moderna was trying to block US government scientists from even being listed on its patents. The fact is, Moderna doesn’t happen without massive taxpayer funding and massive support from US government scientists. Moderna has admitted that US scientists played a “substantial role” in the development. Indeed, as a NY Times report from last year noted, initially people were referring to it as the “NIH-Moderna COVID-19 vaccine,” and then Moderna took over the marketing, and basically cut the government out.
The vaccine grew out of a four-year collaboration between Moderna and the N.I.H., the government’s biomedical research agency — a partnership that was widely hailed when the shot was found to be highly effective. A year ago this month, the government called it the “N.I.H.-Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.”
The agency says three scientists at its Vaccine Research Center — Dr. John R. Mascola, the center’s director; Dr. Barney S. Graham, who recently retired; and Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who is now at Harvard — worked with Moderna scientists to design the genetic sequence that prompts the vaccine to produce an immune response, and should be named on the “principal patent application.”
Moderna disagrees. In a July filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the company said it had “reached the good-faith determination that these individuals did not co-invent” the component in question.
So, already, Moderna’s narrative about how it’s just some little guy with a great invention is pretty sketchy. And we won’t get into just how much the US taxpayer paid the company as the US government (smartly) paid for the public to get vaccinated and protected from COVID.
Of course, Moderna knows this is going to come up, so it uses some weasel words to try to pretend this lawsuit isn’t about anything publicly funded. But read carefully:
This lawsuit does not relate to any patent rights generated during Moderna and NIH’s collaboration to combat COVID-19.
But, uh, the details above were from before COVID, when NIH scientists helped Moderna — playing a “substantial role” in crafting the underlying technology. Basically, all of the technology that was necessary to combat COVID. To say that it’s not using anything “generated during Moderna and NIH’s collaboration to combat COVID-19” cleverly cuts out all of the collaboration before 2020.
From there, Moderna insists that, really, people should view it as the good guy here, because — IN THIS COMPLAINT IN WHICH IT IS SUING OVER ITS COVID VACCINE — it notes that it promised not to sue over the COVID vaccine “during the pandemic.”
Given the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moderna voluntarily pledged on October 8, 2020 that, “while the pandemic continues, Moderna will not enforce our COVID-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.”3
Moderna refrained from asserting its patents earlier so as not to distract from efforts to bring the pandemic to an end as quickly as possible.
Guess what? Apparently the pandemic’s over. At least according to Moderna’s execs who want to start shaking down other companies for cash.
So, now Moderna has a new rule: it won’t enforce its patents… in poor countries. Everywhere else is fair game.
My guess is that Pfizer is going to do the math here and probably pay up to get Moderna to go away. After all, Pfizer has long been a terrible abuser of the patent system, using it to jack up prices and limit generic competition from the marketplace. While that does mean that the company has some very knowledgeable patent litigators on speed dial, it also likely means that it doesn’t want to fight back too hard.
And that sucks, because for once, the COVID vaccines showed how well innovation works when patents aren’t really there to block anything (initially, that is). Multiple companies all scrambling to provide solutions, information sharing that allowed for more experimentation and incremental innovation. None of it requiring locking stuff up.
But Moderna is now in “fuck that, give me my money” mode, and showing, yet again, just how broken our patent system is.
Once again, I’ll remind everyone of Jonas Salk’s comments upon people asking him who owned the patent on his polio vaccine:
“Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
No, you can’t patent the sun, but it seems that the greedy jerks at Moderna would still try to patent it if they could.