Archive

Posts Tagged ‘World Trade Organization’
March 31st, 2022 at 12:49 pm
Congress Mustn’t Tolerate WTO and Biden Admin Proposal Targeting U.S. Pharmaceutical Patent Protections
Posted by Print

This week, the Biden Administration’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai appeared before the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, offering an important opportunity to rally opposition to the administration’s agreement with a misguided proposal in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend patent protections for Covid vaccines, treatments and other therapies created by U.S. pharmaceutical innovators (through what’s known as the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, or “TRIPS”).

Don’t let the esoteric nature of the treaty fool you – this is an extremely dangerous proposal to attack U.S. patent rights.  As The Wall Street Journal observed, “this may be the single worst presidential economic decision” since the Nixon Administration.

That assessment is well-founded.  Strong patent protections provide the foundation for U.S. pharmaceutical innovation, and explain why the U.S. leads the world by accounting for an astounding two-thirds of all new drugs introduced worldwide.  The Covid vaccines and treatments at issue provide just the latest example.  Contravening that obvious causal relationship, however, some WTO members demand that the U.S. surrender those vital patent and other intellectual property (IP) protections for Covid vaccines, diagnostics and other treatments.  Worse, some misguided politicians here in America who should know better echo those potentially destructive demands.

That would tragically and needlessly undermine the very policies that prompted pharmaceutical innovators to devise and develop the vaccines already providing relief to the world, and leave us less capable of addressing current and future diseases and pandemics.  Ironically, President Biden himself has historically supported patent and other IP rights, including sponsorship of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act that proved so invaluable in promoting innovation, and which The Economist magazine labeled “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century.”

It’s also important to note that more rational actors like the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland and Japan oppose the proposed TRIPS patent suspension.   In contrast, WTO members India and South Africa, which back the effort targeting U.S. patent rights, have even joined international rogues China and Russia to create their own joint “vaccine center.”  That betrays the bad faith of their broader effort.

India and South Africa have joined with China and Russia (and Brazil) to establish a joint BRICS vaccine center.

The proposed TRIPS waiver targeting U.S. drug innovators and patent protections is also unnecessary, because treatments are already being provided to impoverished nations across the world, and patent rights are already being licensed at abnormally low prices or even free of charge.  To the extent that difficulties in immunizing impoverished populations remain, as emphasized by the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the problems center on local logistical distribution problems and vaccination hesitancy among the unvaccinated, not supply shortages.  Indeed, biopharmaceutical manufacturers already possess the ability to produce 20 billion vaccine doses in 2022.

More broadly, lawmakers and American consumers must consider the dangerous signal that suspending patent rights for pharmaceutical innovators would send, and the long-term disincentives that would follow if pharmaceutical patent rights were weakened rather than protected.  Pharmaceutical innovation demands billions of dollars in sunk costs of investment and testing, not to mention potential product liability lawsuits for any error.  To suddenly signal that those costs and risks won’t be sufficiently and fairly rewarded through ensuing patent protections would have catastrophic effects over both the short and long terms.  That will increasingly become the reality if we accept policies that deprive innovators and investors of the incentives to create drugs that save millions and even billions of lives.

American patent protections are the leading reason why we continue to produce the overwhelming share of new drugs worldwide, including the Covid vaccines themselves.  The WTO and Biden Administration must recognize and respect that reality, and Congress must act to stop this potentially catastrophic WTO proposal.