Patent Nonsense

  • by: |
  • 05/01/2008
This week, the World Health Organization’s Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property is gathered in Geneva to finalize its report to the general body for how the international community can best aid developing countries.
Many attendees support a proposal to replace drug patents with a “prize” system, wherein governments offer monetary rewards for new pharmaceuticals. A central WHO bureaucracy would decide which diseases are worth researching, establish prizes accordingly and then put the formulas into the public domain, allowing anyone to produce generics.

What could justify this overhaul? Proponents argue that patents keep drug prices artificially high and that pharmaceutical firms spend too much money on “lifestyle” drugs aimed at Westerners and too little on treatments for developing-world diseases.

Have a look at this article for further discussion of this foolishness:

The patent system doesn’t cause firms to ignore the developing world. Roughly half the research projects into Third World diseases are run by drug companies. The claim that prices keep drugs from poor patients is equally untrue. The reality? Developing countries lack the infrastructure for drug distribution. As the WHO’s HIV division director put it in 2006: “It is very obvious that the elephant in the room is not the current price of drugs. The real obstacle is the fragility of the health systems. You have health infrastructure that is dilapidated, and supply chains that don’t exist.”

Prizes might work in industries defined by “eureka” achievements like space travel. But drugs come from a long, incremental process of testing and retesting. Prizes only reward breakthroughs, not intermediate steps. Replacing pharmaceutical patents with a prize system would do untold damage to millions of poor patients.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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