Monday, July 15, 2013

Believe or not, I'm going to tie this in with the Fantastic Four

Joseph Stiglitz has a NYT opinion piece entitled "How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality" which lays out in one of the most serious areas imaginable just how costly out of control IP laws can be (a point we've been making in much more frivolous terms).
The drug industry, as always, claimed that without patent protection, there would be no incentives for research and all would suffer. I filed an amicus brief with the court, explaining why the industry’s arguments were wrong, and why this and similar patents actually impeded, rather than fostered, innovation. Through my participation in the case, I heard heart-rending stories of women who didn’t take the actions they should have, because they believed the false-negative results of Myriad’s inferior tests. The better tests would have told them they did in fact have a gene associated with cancer.The good news coming from the Supreme Court was that in the United States, genes could not be patented. In a sense, the court gave back to women something they thought they already owned. This had two enormous practical implications: one is it meant that there could now be competition to develop better, more accurate, less expensive tests for the gene. We could once again have competitive markets driving innovation. And the second is that poor women would have a more equal chance to live — in this case, to conquer breast cancer.

But as important a victory as this is, it is ultimately only one corner of a global intellectual property landscape that is heavily shaped by corporate interests — usually American. And America has attempted to foist its intellectual property regime on others, through the World Trade Organization and bilateral and other multilateral trade regimes. It is doing so now in negotiations as part of the so-called trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade agreements are supposed to be an important instrument of diplomacy: closer trade integration brings closer ties in other dimensions. But attempts by the office of the United States Trade Representative to persuade others that, in effect, corporate profits are more important than human lives undermines America’s international standing: if anything, it reinforces the stereotype of the crass American.

Economic power often speaks louder, though, than moral values; and in the many instances in which American corporate interests prevail in intellectual property rights, our policies help increase inequality abroad. In most countries, it’s much the same as in the United States: the lives of the poor are sacrificed at the altar of corporate profits. But even in those where, say, the government would provide a test like Myriad’s at affordable prices for all, there is a cost: when a government pays monopoly prices for a medical test, it takes money away that could be spent for other lifesaving health expenditures.

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