God's Politics

God's Politics


Elizabeth Palmberg: Lawyers Without Borders

posted by gp_intern

In another example of the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to make governments worldwide its enforcers, corporate giant Novartis today announced it would keep pushing its lawsuit for its “right” to get patents in India on minor repackagings of pre-existing drugs. India’s generic drug producers currently make a large part of the lifesaving drugs for AIDS and other diseases used in the world’s poorest countries. “Novartis is trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world,” according to Dr. Unni Karunakara of Doctors Without Borders.

In the test case, Novartis will fight India’s refusal to give it a patent on a slightly different form of the anti-cancer drug Gleevec (chemists have dismissed the modification as an “obvious” crystal form of the original drug). India’s 2005 patent law refuses patents to such “me-too” drugs that show no genuine innovation over the original (although the U.S. grants such patents, motivating companies to turn their attention from more substantive research).

Patents are entirely artificial, temporary monopolies granted by governments to serve a social purpose (i.e., research and development into new drugs – although a lot of the profit gets funneled into marketing and lobbying). Unsurprisingly, corporations like to repackage these monopolies as “intellectual property,” and then try to get them extended by the WTO and other trade agreements for longer periods, in more countries – even countries where a vanishingly small percentage of the population could ever hope to pay for under-patent drugs.

The ironic thing is that Gleevec (known in academic circles by the catchy name STI571) is the poster child of new medicines developed based on basic research – largely university-based and government-funded – into the human genome. Gleevec’s own testing was partly paid for by the federally-funded National Cancer Institute. When U.S. taxpayers ponied up the dollars to help scientists develop lifesaving medicines, I doubt they were planning to sponsor corporate lawsuits against the world’s poor.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an assistant editor of Sojourners magazine, which will have a special issue about trade justice in May.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(24)
post a comment
kevin s.

posted January 29, 2007 at 9:07 pm


Regardless of whether money gets put into lobbying and marketing, it still cost nearly a billion dollars to research new drugs. Are you denying that the right to intellectual property exists? This article is full of language that leads me to believe you have not considered the opposing viewpoint on this.



report abuse
 

Kris Weinschenker

posted January 29, 2007 at 10:04 pm


Lawyers fighting for the rights of globalistic drug companies. A sign of the pharakaria(sp) spirit, as well as a “Brave New World”.



report abuse
 

splinterlog

posted January 30, 2007 at 4:14 am


And your comment Kevin leads me to believe that you have not considered the legacy of colonialism nor the absurdities to which IP rights have been taken. For example, companies in TX have tried ot patent Indian rice and medicinal products that have been used by literally billions of people for thousands of years. We’re not talking about file-sharing over the internet here.



report abuse
 

Donny

posted January 30, 2007 at 3:10 pm


So then . . . the whole world IS to embrace the Sojouners concept of commiunsim? Patents encourage AND reward individuals that have reason to make the world a better place by embracing an open-market and free-enterprise system. No one would lift a finger in the Sojo world accept to reach for a handout. Bright minds would have no compulsion to anything other than to feed their bellies below them. Give me liberty or get me the h_ll away from true socialists.



report abuse
 

kevin s.

posted January 30, 2007 at 3:29 pm


Splinterlog, I am aware that patent law gets dicey (which is why patent attorney’s make absurd amounts of money). However, some acknowledgment that drugs are enormously expensive to research, as well as the fact that international price controls sap company profits, would add more nuance to the story.



report abuse
 

splinterlog

posted January 30, 2007 at 4:18 pm


drugs are enormously expensive to research Yes what you say is true. However, I like the way this article points out another fact that receives very little coverage – taxpayer money pays for some of the most risky and expensive research. This is not reflected in the pricing of these IPs or the drugs themselves. IP is neccessary inasmuch as it provides incentive for researchers, but not when it starts to interfere with the way the market prices drugs.



report abuse
 

Jeff F.

posted January 30, 2007 at 11:51 pm


Some observations from a patent attorney, How can Novartis be trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world if, as expressly asserted in the post, the patents are for minor repackaging of pre-existing drugs or a slightly different version or for drugs that show no genuine innovation over the original . If the improvements that Novartis is trying to patent are truly so minor, why not just use the original, pre-existing drugs that won t be affected by the law suit? Isn t the post saying that Novartis s improvements are too insignificant to deserve a patent, but so important to the world that Novartis must be stopped from gaining a patent?



report abuse
 

Erin

posted January 31, 2007 at 12:45 am


Donny I love when bright minds are challenged to be inventive and creative and that may be best served from our vantage point in history in a free-enterprise system of economics which is fueled by competition. However, I am not sure we all have equal access to priviledges (money, power & influence is what really gets these patents when all is said and done – this patent issue is NOT talking about your ideal of “rewarding the invividual” – this is a rich corporation trying to get rich by selling out the poor) because when people get priviledges they tend to not share them. That’s all. Share. Is this lawsuit justice for the rich… or justice for those not able to get it for themselves?… Is caring about justice and the needs of the poor the way of communism or is it the way of Christ?



report abuse
 

Elizabeth Palmberg

posted January 31, 2007 at 2:12 am


Jeff F. makes an intelligent argument – I should clarify that I am arguing that the innovation, not the efficacy, of the slightly altered drug form is insignificant. For example, I take calcium citrate tablets because they are easier to absorb than calcium carbonate, but that does not mean that testing different calcium salts was as big an innovation as testing the importance of the calcium ion for bone density. This argument is much stronger for Gleevec than for calcium, as calcium is a pure element, wheras Gleevec is an extremely complex molecule carefully designed to attack a particular kind of cancer. My larger argument is that, as patents are artificial monopolies created to serve a social purpose, we should consider whether that purpose is served by creating patents (especially creating them as aggressively as in the US) in poorer countries where few can afford to buy patented medicines at list prices. In such countries, creating the patent-monopoly produces little financial incentive to research, but it does hurt sick people who might be able to afford the generic version. According to Doctors Without Borders, India basically did not grant patents on medicines until 2005, when it was forced to start by the WTO agreement. The pharmaceutical industry was financially able to develop medicines prior to 2005. See this article for an argument for why allowing insignficantly innovative patent applications distracts from genuinely innovative research: http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=680&Itemid=45. (This link was broken in my original post; apologies). See this page for a technical description of the chemical and legal points involved in the India Gleevec case so far: http://www.mondaq.com/article.asp?articleid=40082.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 3:21 am


Jeff F., Thank you for speaking up on this. If I’m understanding this correctly, the basic research and also the research on this specific drug were funded by the US federal government and a generic version is not available in the US. Are you familiar with this specific drug and do I have it right… is no generic version available in the US? If I am right, does US law provide that patents are still available even if federal funds are provided in the research for the specific drug? If so, what is the rationale for that? Thanks for participating!



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 3:35 am


Elizabeth, Thank you for the original article and the follow-up.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 4:30 am


Yahoo! groups allows “off-group” communication between participants, which would make it possible for us to ask clarifying questions of other participants.



report abuse
 

kevin s.

posted January 31, 2007 at 5:33 am


“In such countries, creating the patent-monopoly produces little financial incentive to research, but it does hurt sick people who might be able to afford the generic version.” Except that if we allow other countries to abridge intellecutal property rights, then we render them meaningless, particularly since there are those in Congress who would readily import those same drugs back into America. That said, I think you hae still failed to unwind Jeff’s quandary, which is that, if the drug is sufficiently different to be important, it is sufficiently different to demand it’s own patent protection. I would also take issue with you ascription of the term “artificial monopoly” to patents. The term seems more pejorative than informative.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 5:57 am


Jeff F., We’ve heard from Kevin… what do you think?



report abuse
 

Jeff F.

posted January 31, 2007 at 1:34 pm


I want to thank Elizabeth Palmberg for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful response. I think this site is improved by such responses from its authors. The difference between efficacy and innovation is a valid point, although they are often linked. Determining what ideas are truly innovative and those that aren t may be the most fundamental struggle of patent law because it is difficult to avoid subjectivity in making the determination. Many things can seem obvious with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. In an attempt to remove subjectivity from the determination, some objective factors are often considered, with one of those factors often being evidence of the commercial success (efficacy) attributable to an idea. On the larger argument , I agree that patents are intended to serve a social purpose and that social purpose must be considered in the formation of patent laws. However, there is nothing that requires patented medicines to be priced so that few in a particular country can afford them (such pricing would seem counter productive to the company that holds the patent), and the generic version is often only available because some other country provided a financial incentive through its patent laws to generate the necessary innovation to create the drug in the first place. While I have my doubts about the assertion that in such countries, creating the patent-monopoly produces little financial incentive to research , I have little doubt that a failure to allow patents creates an incentive to freely take for your own benefit the hard work produced by others, which seems like a complete disincentive to do your own research. In short, why do your own research when you can easily freeload off the work of others.



report abuse
 

Jeff F.

posted January 31, 2007 at 1:49 pm


Mike, I am sorry, but I don t practice in the pharmaceutical arts, so I won t be much help regarding specifics on patents for the drug industry. Patent law is pretty specialized, and patent law as applied to pharmaceuticals is even more specialized. I can imagine situations where the federal government might believe its in the public interest to fund research while also allowing patent rights if something worthy results from the research, but I can t say with any certainty that this does or doesn t happen for specific drugs. Sorry for the delayed reply, but this is a busy week for me.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 4:37 pm


Jeff F., Thanks for participating and for taking the time to respond to questions.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted January 31, 2007 at 4:41 pm


Supporters of the values in “God’s Politics”, I suggest we contact our members of congress to ask about this particular circumstance, using the information Elizabeth Palmberg provided to us and reflecting Jeff F.’s cautions about the need for protecting work product from copying (I think there may be a seven year period that protection applies, but that’s a wild guess on my part).



report abuse
 

Jeff F.

posted January 31, 2007 at 5:20 pm


Mike, In general, patent protection extends for 20 years from the date of filing the patent application, as long as certain maintenance fees are paid during that 20 year term. This is slightly off topic, but I would suggest that if one of the goals here is to improve the quality of patents that are issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), anyone contacting their congressman or senator also inquire about the amount of revenue that is pulled from the USPTO for use as general revenue. The USPTO is self funded via fees paid by those who seek patent protection, and historically a significant portion of those fees goes to general revenue rather than toward running and improving the USPTO. Just a thought.



report abuse
 

Elizabeth Palmberg

posted January 31, 2007 at 9:18 pm


Re: Mike’s point, my understanding is that most new medicines build on government-funded basic science research to one extent or another – Gleevec is simply a particularly strong example. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that we try to add another layer of complexity to the patent system by demanding that corporations pay for the science they use; I just think we should all remember that modern drugs are seldom created ex nihilo by private companies. To an extent, every intellectual endeavor, whether a drug, a novel, or a software program, builds on both hard work by the innovator _and_ hard work by the others who have come before them. “Intellectual property” legislation is a piece of social engineering – it creates short-term monopolies in order to compensate innovators, but limits these monopolies in time so that society as a whole can benefit (and innovate further). (If anyone finds the term “artificial” pejorative for some reason, we could call patent monopolies “government-created”.) It appears that often, the drug pricing strategy that maximizes profits is not the strategy that would maximize public health (see Doctors Without Borders’ Access to Essential Medicines project for a large amount of information about this). Corporations exist to make profits; is not reasonable to ask corporations to go into the social policy business.



report abuse
 

kevin s.

posted January 31, 2007 at 10:29 pm


I though the term “monopoly” was pejorative in the context of the article. It makes it sound as though the government is granting a license for drug companies to impede innovation, when the opposite is true. In general, I think there is a lot of misinformation about how drug companies sell their product. Companies who manufacture life-saving products are hel to a higher level of scrutiny than, say, Coca-cola. From a business standpoint, this isn’t entirely fair, and we need to make sure we are not cutting our noses off to spite our face by crippling their ability to turn a profit. That was my point, and I thank you for joining the discussion.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:10 am


Thanks again to Elizabeth Palmberg and Jeff F. for their participation and helpful advice!



report abuse
 

John D. Sens

posted February 1, 2007 at 1:33 am


What technical developers, whether of drugs, software,or whatever, need is a way to prevent reverse engineering and/or breakdown analysis of products so that they are either extremely difficult or impossible to duplicate for less than the price set by the developer. If such protections could be developed many piracy problems would be solved. I know that this sounds like a Utopian solution, but Isaac Newton reasoned out the calculus and two-key public encryption was discovered although earlier it seemed impossible. Maybe someday. Elizabeth Palmberg’s argument is anticapitalist, which seems to be the Sojourner’s governing philosophy. Jim Wallis seeks to be a latter day Robin Hood in a civilized sense. He does not advocate robbing the rich at gunpoint to give to the poor; instead he advocates tirelessly for legislation that will have the desired shakedown effect. I think both of them have the best intentions.



report abuse
 

Mike Hayes

posted February 1, 2007 at 3:20 am


John D Sens, What is the proper approach to help persons in poverty here in the US? Should they pull themselves up by their boot straps? Should the US government help them? What about parts of our world in which per capita income is less than $1 per day? Should other governments help them? Private charities?



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting God's Politics. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:14:07am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Why I Work for Immigration Reform (by Patty Kupfer)
When I tell people that I work on immigration reform, they usually laugh or say, "way to pick an easy topic." Everyday it feels like there is more fear, more hate. Raids are picking up in Nevada, California, and New York. A number of senators who supported comprehensive reform only a few months ago

posted 12:30:52pm Oct. 16, 2007 | read full post »

Audio: Jim Wallis on "Value Voters" on The Tavis Smiley Show
Last week Jim was on The Tavis Smiley Show and talked about how the changing political landscape will affect the upcoming '08 election. Jim and Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state, debated and discussed both the impact of "value voters" on the election and what those values entail. + Down

posted 10:11:56am Oct. 16, 2007 | read full post »

Verse of the Day: 'peace to the far and the near'
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss u

posted 9:35:01am Oct. 16, 2007 | read full post »

Daily News Digest (by Duane Shank)
the latest news on Mideast, Iran, Romney-Religious right, Blog action day, Turkey, SCHIP, Iran, Aids-Africa, India, Budget, Brownback-slavery apology, Canada, and selected op-eds. Sign up to receive our daily news summary via e-mail » Blog action day. Thousands of bloggers unite in blitz of green

posted 9:31:25am Oct. 16, 2007 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.