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.
Filed Under: developing nations, generic drugs, pharmaceutical patents, uspto, who, wipo