Throughout its history, the United States has led the world in protecting intellectual property (IP)…
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Throughout its history, the United States has led the world in protecting intellectual property (IP) rights. On that foundation, we’ve also led the world in artistic, commercial and scientific innovation, particularly with lifesaving medicines and vaccines.

Yet patent rights are under increasing assault, with anti-patent activists charging pharmaceutical makers with "antitrust" violations for utilizing and building upon their patents for the greater good. Their rhetoric and false critiques under the guise of "antitrust" typically rely upon an array of misleading and pejorative labels, to the point where they take on a meaning that bears no resemblance to reality.

The Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) and IPWatchdog, Inc., have partnered up to offer a free webinar conversation that…[more]

August 03, 2021 • 10:07 AM

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In Welcome Bipartisanship, Senator Chris Coons Stands Up for Strong Pharmaceutical Patent Rights Print
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, April 29 2021
Senator Coons wisely noted that the vaccine innovators are already opening up their products with the rest of the world, and that IP rights don’t inhibit that process, they facilitate it.

Amid today’s spiral of societal acrimony, even hardened partisans can appreciate those rare instances of sobriety and bipartisanship from elected officials.  

That’s particularly true when the policy issue in question is literally one of life and death.  

We witnessed a welcome moment of such sobriety last week, when Senator Chris Coons (D – Delaware) addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies regarding critical intellectual property (IP) protections in a speech entitled “The Importance of Intellectual Property in Healthcare Innovation During COVID-19.”  

The impetus for Senator Coons’s speech and the potential danger that he confronted head-on is a growing international and domestic chorus to suspend patent protections for pharmaceutical innovations, including coronavirus vaccines.  Specifically, developing nations led by India and South Africa are pushing a World Trade Organization (WTO) resolution to disregard patent protections for covid vaccines held by pharmaceutical innovators.  As Senator Coons pointed out, those vaccines were developed with breathtaking speed precisely in reliance upon those patent protections:  

There is a move right now at the WTO by a number of countries – India and South Africa in particular – and some in our own country, and some of my colleagues here in the Senate, to try and press for a broad waiver of IP rights – as if somehow IP rights have been a critical impediment to the availability of vaccines and therapeutics.  Everything I’ve seen suggests that’s not the case.  That some of the barriers to scaling up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics at the scale and on the timeline the world needs are just that – barriers to manufacturing and distribution.  

Those misguided Senate colleagues whom Senator Coons references, including names like Bernie Sanders (I – Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D – Massachusetts), falsely claim that disregarding IP protections is needed in order to provide vaccines to impoverished nations.  In their letter to the White House, they allege that, “Allowing countries to manufacture locally will expedite access to vaccines and treatment, prevent unnecessary deaths, expedite global vaccination efforts, and facilitate a stronger, faster economic recovery.”  

Rebutting his Democratic Senate colleagues, however, Senator Coons wisely noted that the vaccine innovators are already opening up their products with the rest of the world, and that IP rights don’t inhibit that process, they facilitate it:  

[T]he willingness of the key inventors and developers of mRNA vaccines and other vaccines and other therapeutics – their willingness to license and manufacture and distribute at cost or as donations – these vital tools in the global war on this covid pandemic suggests that it’s not IP rights that are centrally at issue.  In fact, if anything, IP has enabled historic licensing and partnerships.  Some of the IP waivers and some of the collaboration that’s happened in the midst of this pandemic, I think, points to the ways in which IP has actually not been a barrier, but a facilitator of critical, cutting-edge innovation.  

Indeed, just this week the federal government announced that up to 60 million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be shared with developing nations.  

The problem with simply surrendering vaccine patents to developing nations wholesale is that the vaccines are extremely complex, and demand meticulous quality control throughout the manufacturing and distribution process.  As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Pfizer has already confirmed attempts to counterfeit its vaccine in multiple foreign countries.  Accordingly, simply handing over vaccine recipes would create immediate safety concerns.  The better alternative is for vaccine developers to license their IP with strict quality controls to ensure safety and effectiveness.  

Moreover, as Senator Coons correctly emphasized, the greater long-term danger is that disregarding pharmaceutical patent protections will mean less private investment and innovation in future vaccines and lifesaving drugs:  

If we were to simply open up to the world all of the IP at the core of these groundbreaking developments, I think we would then be at risk of losing the private sector investment and development that’s critical to this moment of personalized medicine, of breakthrough vaccines, of breakthrough medical diagnostics.  And I think, frankly, I think the world would suffer as a result.  So as I said, I don’t think that waiving IP rights will suddenly enable other countries the ability to ramp up the manufacturing of complex vaccines.  Instead, I am urging that the Biden Administration and the private sector work together in a coordinated effort to manufacture, distribute and administer vaccines rapidly and equitably globally.  

Senator Coons added, “In the United States, our intellectual property system was long considered the gold standard.”  He’s absolutely right, and that explains why the U.S. has led the world in creating new lifesaving pharmaceuticals through the decades, including through the covid pandemic.  

We may not agree with Senator Coons often, but he deserves immense credit for standing up to Senate colleagues within his own party, and for advocating stronger IP rights, not weaker IP rights, as the path to a better future both domestically and worldwide.   

Quiz Question   
How many states mandate vaccine immunization for children for some infectious diseases as a requirement to enroll in public schools?
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Notable Quote   
 
"The bad judgment calls continue to pile up just seven months into the Biden administration. President Joe Biden's tenure is increasingly characterized by poor personnel choices, ethical lapses, and disastrous policy decisions. Simply put, judgement is Biden's biggest flaw.Foreshadowing what would become a pattern, Biden began his presidency by selecting the unpopular former presidential candidate…[more]
 
 
—Jason Chaffetz, Fox News Contributor, Distinguished Fellow for the Government Accountability Institute and Former Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
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