“Everything—all energy—must be focused on drugs, cures, vaccines and/or treatments for COVID-19. Calls for compulsory licensing of rights that do not exist and can’t possibly exist for years does not further the critical objective. They are pure political theater and opportunism.”
Several weeks ago we published an article about how innovators are rushing to solve the coronavirus pandemic while conversations are simultaneously underway to strip proprietary protections from anyone who might actually succeed. The issue of compulsory licensing, whereby owners of proprietary rights are forced to give up those rights, is already being earnestly discussed all over the world, including in the United States.
The good news since our previous report is that the pace of innovation and the global race to address the COVID-19 pandemic have only accelerated. Dozens of leading U.S. research universities are doing widespread research directed to drugs, diagnostics, ventilators, and personal protective equipment capable of addressing the immediate pandemic and its next wave. These universities are being deluged with requests from Big Tech and life sciences companies to collaborate, producing a never before seen atmosphere of cooperation. This massive outpouring of innovation and product development is going around the clock because COVID-19 labs and manufacturing are allowed to operate during the lockdown. These are all topics we will discuss next Tuesday, April 14, during a special free webinar presentation.
The bad news since our previous report is that the pace of calls for compulsory licensing have only increased. There is a belief among some who view pharmaceutical and biotech companies and their executives as “crooks” that if these companies can engage in responsible corporate citizenship today they should be able to do that indefinitely into the future. So as Gilead donates its experimental coronavirus drug Remdesivir, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Bayer and Amneal Pharmaceutials are donating hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets, and Regeneron is donating COVID-19 test kits, they and the many other corporate good Samaritans are being thanked by some people saying that if they can give things away now why can’t they give things away, period.
No: “thank you for being a responsible corporate citizen and realizing we are all in this together!” Those who are convinced biotech and pharmaceutical companies are a bunch of crooks seem vindicated in their belief because, after all, if those businesses can be giving things away during a crisis that is proof they should have been giving things away all along. And yet further proof that they should be giving things away in the future. Economics be damned!
Obviously, businesses giving products away is not a feasible long-term economic strategy despite how it encourages those who wish life could be so easy. Of course, when the world is ablaze it is reasonable to presume that corporations should be expected to step up to the challenges of our collective new reality, which means everyone needs to chip in where they can and do what they can. As individuals we can stay home—a simple enough task, but something.
The truth is the biotech and pharmaceutical industry has stepped up in a very big way and is mobilizing its considerable resources in an effort to respond to this global crisis. Indeed, the entire industry is focused on advancing research and seeking a vaccine, a treatment, better protective gear, whatever is in their respective wheelhouse. While there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is a national and global tragedy, by all signs it seems it will also be a remarkable success when the final story is told. Innovators on all levels are coming together, patent rights be damned—at least for the moment; academics getting credit in their publish or perish world just doesn’t matter. Innovators of all stripes—scientists, engineers, researchers, and academics–are working together. There will be time later to sort out who did what, who owns what, who deserves what recognition, but right now it is simply all hands on deck.
Of course, calls for compulsory licensing from politicians who are just itching to do the wrong thing is a very big and unnecessary distraction. An unforced error worthy of placement in the pantheon of unforced errors.
If the objective is to beat this virus as fast as possible it simply isn’t helpful to talk about the compulsory licensing of drugs that don’t yet exist and the patents that can’t possibly be issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for at least the next two to three years. The COVID-19 crisis will be long since over by the time the first patent issues relating to anything specifically related to COVID-19. Yet somehow it is viewed as productive to demand compulsory licensing of vaccines, treatments and cures for COVID-19 that do not exist?
Why would you tell people that their drug, cure or treatment will be expropriated the moment it works? Is that in any way calculated toward achieving a vaccine faster? Will the threat of immediate expropriation lead scientists and researchers to discover treatments and cures more quickly? No, of course not. So, why then are politicians talking about compulsory licenses at a time like this? All they are doing is wasting time and oxygen, and being counterproductive.
Everything—all energy—must be focused on drugs, cures, vaccines and/or treatments for COVID-19. Calls for compulsory licensing of rights that do not exist and can’t possibly exist for years does not further the critical objective. They are pure political theater and opportunism.
At a time when the biotech and pharmaceutical industry is mobilizing its resources, there is an effort to villainize it. Newsflash to those who view biotech and pharma as a bunch of crooks—the solution to this global pandemic will be delivered by those biotech and pharma crooks.
As we watch the biotech industry and the pharmaceutical industry work with leading research universities, mobilizing considerable resources and donating drugs, it is shameful for a bunch of political hacks to actively seek to disincentivize, belittle and villainize their efforts. The demonization of those who are working to solve the COVID-19 pandemic in the name of scoring political points is duplicitous, subversive and treacherous.
Now is not the time for political grandstanding. Now is the time for solutions.
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