Wednesday, December 14, 2005

'Patents Kill,' say Doctors Without Borders

This year's World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings are producing some interesting debate:
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning relief group Doctors Without Borders warned Tuesday that WTO rules on intellectual property rights make life-saving drugs too expensive for poorer nations.
As one example, a recent WTO agreement on protection of patents has left some 26 million people in Africa without hope of gaining access to AIDS medications that were available before the treaty:
in all these countries one company has the monopoly to sell and make the drug available. Before WTO rules, it was possible in WTO countries for local manufacturers to produce their own versions of newer medicines and that always led to a downward effect on prices. The newer medicines - and I'm talking about medicines that have been developed since 1995 - are almost all priced out reach of people in developing countries.
The newer rules do allow countries to domestically produce and sell patented medicines in the interest of public health, but only Kenya and South Africa have the industrial know-how to attempt this -- the rest of the continent is essentailly excluded from medical treatment because of patent monopolies.

AIDS is perhaps the most striking example, because of its nearly pandemic nature in Africa and its deadliness. But similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other medicines that are considered vital to public health in the developed world, yet are withheld by force from those who need them most: the poorest and needy.

This Christmas season, perhaps we can try to help these people. You can certainly post your feelings about these things in the forums at the WTO website, but it might be more effective to try to get your locally elected officials to push for reform. Write to your senators and representatives.

Followup: Why Drug Companies Don't Need Patents

15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is time, once and for all, to abolish the patent system. It does far more harm than it does good.

Patents are good for monopolists, no one else.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, dude, shut the fuck up, please...

I personally enjoy the fruits of patent protection in the form of Viagra.. Not cheap, but still quite affordable.

I will not give it up because some assholes think patents are bad without proposing any replacement for them..

yeah, "right to Create" bullshit

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The replacement for patents is trade secret and contract law. There is no protection afforded by patents that can't be afforded equally by trade secret and contract law.

(contract law extends to cover things like end-user license agreements, where a producer can eliminate reverse-engineering, etc.)

Getting rid of patents has the advantage that it takes big brother out of the loop -- no government beauracracy can ever be as efficient or effective as a market with freedom to engage in commerce, innovation, and invention under their own terms.

The problems we are currently seeing with the patent system all stem from this one fact: patents equate to a centrally planned (communist) economy on ideas, where favored players get government sponsored monopolies.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"patents equate to a centrally planned (communist) economy on ideas, where favored players get government sponsored monopolies."

Just shut up, please !

What do you know about communist regimes ?
I lived in the old USSR for the first 25 years of my life and I can tell you that no patents were needed there: nobody would ever profit from your creativity, including you, because evrything was owned and controlled by the government. They didn't even have "patents" in the old USSR, just so-called "avtorskoye svidetel'stvo" to put on a wall with no economic value at all.
Patents are unfortunately needed in a modern capitalistic society like US to ensure that that some fat corporate assholes do not steal inventions from small guys, or at least they can be held accountable.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Busuko said...

Having lived in communist Russia, why can't you see the communist parallels to monopoly? In a monopoly, one entity (the monopolist) can set prices arbitrarily, limit production levels to whatever they deem most advantageous, and employ as many people as desired by fiddling with the above two variables. What's the difference between the board of directors of a monopoly doing that and the an appointed politburo?

In a perfect capitalist society, economics is driven by supply and demand. In capitalism, no player can set prices arbitrarily because their competitors will wield an advantage by under-cutting them.

Patents grant fiat monopolies. They are in strict violation of the above capitalist principles. They harm production. They harm innovation. And they harm consumers. The evidence of this is all around.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous thomas34 said...

anonymous said: "Patents are unfortunately needed in a modern capitalistic society like US to ensure that that some fat corporate assholes do not steal inventions from small guys, or at least they can be held accountable."

Hate to break it to you, anonymous, but patents are unfortunately used by some 'fat corporate assholes' to squash start-ups that pose potential competition. Because the 'big playas' have extensive patent portfolios, they can enter into cross-licensing agreements with other 'big playas', but the little guy? He's maybe got a patent or two. Maybe. And since EVERY OBVIOUS IDEA is patentable these days, the little guy has undoubtedly infringed a patent or two of the 'big playas' (or if in the software biz, has infringed about 300 patents for every page of code written). Your 'fat corporate assholes' LOOOOVVE the patent system, and love that they can be granted 1000s of patents every year if they so desire, because it gives them leverage against getting displaced by the little guy. It helps them maintain their power.

So, yeah, once in a while a little guy sticks it to the 'corporate assholes' with some patent, but more often than not, its the other way around. And even in those cases where little guy is doing the sticking, he's often doing it with patents that shouldn't have been granted in the first place.

I'd say the system HEAVILY favors your 'big corporate assholes' more than the little guy, but let's go ahead and stretch a bit and say that it favors each equally. In that case, the whole thing is a wash. It just adds layers of complexity to innovation, taxes inventing, and gives lawyers a reason to leech resources away from those doing groundbreaking things.

That, my friend, sucks.

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, thomas34,
life in general sucks,
lets face it...

Income taxes suck, property taxes suck even more, health care costs are skyrocketing etc. etc. etc.
Patents suck too, no doubt about it, but is there an alternative ?
Just don't tell me that people will keep creating new things and make them available to the public for free without any expectation of a substantial monetary award.
Patents are all about money.
If no patents then what ?

5:15 PM  
Anonymous thomas34 said...

If you admit that patents suck, why do you simply accept their existence as a fact of life? Murder sucks. Starvation sucks. Oh well, let's just live with them -- that's the way the world is so let it be?

I find no compelling argument that people or companies would stop innovating without patents. You feel like this is true. Why? What evidence or logic can you bring to the table that suggests that would be true?

Here is the truth:

#1- all sorts of creative people make discoveries and invent things at times when profit is the furthest thing from their minds (in fact, I'd claim that inventors who have profits as the #1 priority are those who contribute the least to our knowledge and advancement. In fact, they are the trolls who actually impeded progress with their patent monopolies and lawsuit extortion schemes).

#2- inventing, all by its lonesome self, is INHERENTLY valuable. What does that mean? It means that innovation has a value, and that it does not need to be propped up by artificial fiat monopoly power. Companies WOULD STILL put funds into research, invent, and discover regardless of patents. Why do I make this claim? Because HISTORY SUPPORTS IT. There are a multitude of nations, who, over the past century(ies) have had varying levels of patent protection. And in many cases in many different industries, those with the LEAST protection were the MOST innovative and PROFITABLE.

Replace patents with what? At a minimum, replace the current system with one that actually uses a sane criteria for the obviousness and prior art test. At a maximimum, just get rid of it.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thomas34,

you obviously have never invented anything worthy of patent protection...

Try to invent something AND get paid for it without patent protection...

And please, don't call small independent inventors, who invent new things and want to be paid for doing it, "trolls" - you just serve big moneyed corporate interests for free, out of pure ignorance and misinformation...

By the way, a lot of respected people would fit your "troll" description, like Gordon Gould, Thomas Edison, Dean Kamen etc. etc. etc.
Be careful before insulting such people - you just make a fool out of yourself...

7:16 AM  
Anonymous anonymous2 said...

You obviously never invented anything worthy of 'patent protection' either, since you defend the troll way of life. Kudos anonymous.

Go ahead and tell us about your genius invention(s) if you want to use that as some sort of criteria for believability.

Oh, and you forgot one of the best trolls: Lemelson. He's a perfect example of what you are defending.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous thomas34 said...

Actually, anonymous, I have 3 patents to my name. They are all assigned to my employers, past and present. And, I have to tell you, they all have claims that cover either obvious or well-established practices in the software industry.

Currently, the assignees of these patents have no interest in royalty collection. They are held defensively.

But, I can tell you, at least one of them could be very lucrative if enforced because of its broadness. If the assignee finds itself in troubled financial times in the next couple of years (which I deem as highly likely), they may try to extort money from a very broad cross-section of the industry. I don't think the claims would stand if contested, but as we've seen time and time again, that doesn't really matter.

You might ask, why do I have these patents if I feel this way about them. The truth is that in my field, all IP belongs to the employer, and the employer decides what is patentable and what is not (via a 'invention board' composed of lawyers). All "inventions" must be disclosed, as per my employment contract. And all the inventions have other co-inventors within the company(s) who are patent hungry.

I hate this. My name could soon become entangled with litigation that would easily label me as a patent troll, even though I think the patents are entirely meritless, and even though I am opposed to even holding them in the first place.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thomas34,

it is sad that your patents are what I call "junk patents" and this represents the biggest problem with the current state of US patent system: corporations getting 1000' of junk patents a year while corporate "inventors" like yourself get some meager 1000 bucks for each junk patent filed (I don't know about your company but this is the case with other companies like Lucent).
Big high-tech corporations inflate the patent system on purpose: one of the intended side effects is reducing the value of a small number of really breakthrough patents held by small entities.
I, on the other hand, is a "loose cannon", a scientist with a Ph.D. who managed to survive outside of this big corporate BS (and academic BS as well) and still make enough money to play my own patent games.
I have only one software patent but it is critical to some very narrow technical field of great practical significance: it is for this field what RSA patent used to be for the entire field of applied cryptography.
And I am gonna teach those corporate fucktards about the true meaning of the exclusive right provided to inventors by the US Constitution (unless they manage to bribe enough politicians down in Washington DC to "reform" the patent system to suit their needs...)
Patent reform is needed, but not according to MicroSoft's or Intel's design.
The bar on what can be called an "invention" must be raised for everybody.
We need fewer but stronger patents, and there is no such thing as defensive or offensive patent - all valid patents must be respected.
All of this "patent troll" BS comes from big corporate infringer's PR departments...

9:19 PM  
Anonymous thomas34 said...

anonymous, if that is the case, you should be pushing for meaningful reform that increases patent quality. I absolutely agree that the reform you (we) want is not the reform that MS and Intel are pushing.

But as it stands, your single patent is no more valid than my 3 patents. Which is to say that none of them are very good. This is because of exactly what you claim, the watering down of patent quality. Big corps are certainly guilty of this, but so are little guys. And the little guys, unfortunately, seem to cause more of a fuss. This isn't just some Big Corp PR campaign -- it's the truth: patent litigation based on crappy patents gives the entire system a black eye.

In short, it doesn't matter how great your patent is until we improve patent quality across the board and get the USPTO to stop granting 'junk' monopolies.

Are there good ways to do this without benefitting the Big Corps or disadvantaging the little guy? Absolutely. Going back to requiring working implementations is one way. Another is to open up the review process to more than just a single examiner paid by the USPTO (which, like it or not, has an economic incentive to grant as many patents as possible). The independent invention defense is another.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thomas34,

At least we can agree on something...

In my case, however, I also obtained (not quite yet) corresponding patent from EPO.
I may sound unpatriotic, but EPO prior art searches and examination procedures are *so much better* that having a European counterpart to any US patent greatly increases the presumption of its validity (and quadruples the price)

If USPTO could learn from EPO practices, then, at the very minumum, we would not have this mess of bad patents we have today.
E.g. Amazon's 1-click patent was not allowed in Europe for lack of technical contribution.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa,

What did "newer drugs developed since 1995" mean to you? (or something like that, can't see the story anymore)

Why have there been any drugs developed? Patents.

What you need to replace when you get rid of patents is the incentive to research and develop new effective drugs.

The cost of developing a new chemical entity in the US is averaging near a billion dollars, counting the costs of testing the one that works and the thousands that don't.

If someone spends a billion dollars and develops a cure for cancer, but it costs (in real production terms) a few thousand dollars a patient, what are we to do? Expropriate the fruits of the research, and the incomes of a huge chunk of the world to supply it free?

Face the real problem - we can create treatments we cannot afford. We invent a moral problem we cannot answer.

6:56 PM  

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