Posted on April 15, by Scott Alexander [Disclaimer: None of these immediately set off alarms, but I have not double-checked all of them to make sure they are accurate.
Jamie LoveSalon. But for areas such as health, patents can also restrict access to medicines for those who cannot afford them. In addition, large corporations from developed countries are patenting so many resources from developing countries that it makes it difficult for those nations to be able to produce medicines write a research paper for altruism themselves.
However, there are some provisions in the TRIPS agreement to allow generics, but that is only when there is an emergency and the products are not used for commercial use and even this clause is under attack from the US and pharmaceutical companies.
Former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel Prize winner for economics, Joseph Stiglitz explained in an editorial in the prestigious British Medical Journal that Intellectual property differs from other property—restricting its use is inefficient as it costs nothing for another person to use it.
Intellectual property rights, however, enable one person or company to have exclusive control of the use of a particular piece of knowledge, thereby creating monopoly power. Monopolies distort the economy. Restricting the use of medical knowledge not only affects economic efficiency, but also life itself.
We tolerate such restrictions in the belief that they might spur innovation, balancing costs against benefits. But the costs of restrictions can outweigh the benefits. It is hard to see how the patent issued by the US government for the healing properties of turmeric, which had been known for hundreds of years, stimulated research.
Had the patent been enforced in India, poor people who wanted to use this compound would have had to pay royalties to the United States. These rights were intended to reduce access to generic medicines and they succeeded. As generic medicines cost a fraction of their brand name counterparts, billions could no longer afford the drugs they needed.
But what have they received in return? Drug companies spend more on advertising and marketing than on research, more on research on lifestyle drugs than on life saving drugs, and almost nothing on diseases that affect developing countries only.
This is not surprising. Poor people cannot afford drugs, and drug companies make investments that yield the highest returns. Notice that impedes growth, and development and is intended to. It is also an example of inequality being structured into law, also summarized here: Western countries, led by the United States, have fought strenuously on the international front to protect those patents—in effect, placing a greater value on intellectual property, in the name of spurring innovation and saving more lives in the future, than on saving lives currently at risk.
WTO patent rules allow 20 years of exclusive rights to make the drugs. Hence, the price is set by the company, leaving governments and patients little room to negotiate, unless a government threatens to overturn the patent with a compulsory license. Such a mechanism authorizes a producer other than the patent holder to produce a generic version of the product though the patent-holder does get some royalty to recognize their contribution.
Parallel importing allows a nation to effectively shop around for the best price of the same drug which may be sold in many countries at different prices.
These are potentially very effective tools to get the price down. But there has been constant threat by the large pharmaceutical industries in the U. They have pressured developing nations and international agreements in various ways to minimize the impact these would have on them.
Pharmaceutical groups have lobbied the U. See for example, an article about the relationship between globalization and equitable access to essential drugsfrom the Third World Network for more on this.
Some governments also levy various import taxes on such products, and the cost of transporting them etc may add to the cost of that medicine, but the point is that the price is high to start with. Some, like Brazil, have tried to develop cheaper, more generic drugs Others, such as South Africa, who may have tried this before, have also tried to purchase cheaper generic drugs or import them from where it is sold the cheapest.
This works out well between developing countries. These attempts are important because they recognize the need to reduce dependency upon large multinational corporations which charge high prices.
It also shows a sign that these governments are attempting to meet their obligations to their own people.
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In a radio interviewBrazilian Ambassador to the WTO, Celso Amorim, points out that the United States provides vast amounts of aid and subsidies to its pharmaceutical corporations to research drugs and so forth, and yet when other developing countries try this, the US complains via the WTO about it.
The fear has been that if a few developing countries succeed in this sort of independent path, then other developing countries will follow suit, and this will threaten their markets. The additional fear is also based on how if companies from developing countries are able to make inroads on profits on products that are not actually sold much by the large multinational pharmaceuticals, then for other products that generate more sales and profits, companies from developing countries could pose a real threat to their bottom line.
Furthermore, if other companies are able to offer similar drugs for much lower prices, it indicates potentially how much the public of the industrialized world are being over-charged. A huge public outcry forced 39 pharmaceuticals to drop their case in April against South Africa.
The publicity that had been generated by this had potentially wider implications to the whole TRIPS regime: The companies seem to be increasingly willing to sacrifice the already marginal sales generated on HIV drugs in Africa in an attempt to forestall the development of a larger social movement that might ultimately lead to the TRIPS Agreement being significantly altered or even removed from the WTO.Science policy issues have recently joined technology issues in being acknowledged to have strategic importance for national ‘competitiveness’ and ‘economic security’.
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