Progressives are promoting President Biden’s waiver of U.S. Covid vaccine patents as necessary to save lives. So full marks for candor to
Sen. Elizabeth Warren,
who last week explained the real goal: set a precedent that erodes all pharmaceutical intellectual property protections in the U.S. and around the world.
“Special [IP] protections for drug companies are an even bigger issue than COVID-19 alone,” the Massachusetts Senator said at a Senate Finance hearing with U.S. Trade
Rep Katherine Tai
on Wednesday. “I think it’s time now for our trade negotiators to take leadership and actively set rules that lower drug costs for American families.”
What special protections? Drug makers receive less IP protection than other businesses under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, which allow low-income countries to force drug makers to license patents during emergencies. But progressives believe IP protections shouldn’t exist at all for drugs and that their makers shouldn’t be rewarded for years of risky investment and innovation.
As Ms. Warren explained: “We’re fighting over a waiver to [IP] rules—rules that never should have existed in the first place.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden
put it: Intellectual property rules should “promote the common good,” which will presumably be defined by . . . Ron Wyden.
Progressives haven’t been able to persuade a majority of Congress to abolish drug patents, so they aim to do so through trade agreements, starting with the WTO vaccine waiver. Recall how Democrats last year insisted that the Trump Administration remove a provision protecting IP for biologic drugs from the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.
Ms. Warren is right when she says drug makers are “kicking and screaming about this waiver over the Covid vaccines.” They’re worried about U.S. government theft. But they also fear it will allow other countries, including China and India, to exploit their innovation and make it harder to raise capital to future investment—and future vaccines.
Vaccine makers have already licensed their patents to dozens of manufacturers around the world, but it takes time to scale up production. Allowing unlicensed manufacturers to produce vaccines could imperil safety. This is why even European leaders, such as Germany’s
Europe’s liberals don’t want to see their crown pharmaceutical jewels handed to the Chinese, even if American progressives don’t mind.
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Appeared in the May 17, 2021, print edition.
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