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Weakened intellectual property rights ends in suffering, death?

Death and Suffering as the Unintended Consequences of Trade Negotiations
By Tom Giovanetti

If the study of public policy teaches us anything, it is that political
solutions usually have unintended and frequently negative consequences.
This is known as the "Law of Unintended Consequences," which asserts that
we cannot always predict the results of a change in government policy.

Next week, at the next round of negotiations for the Doha Declaration on
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), the United
States, at the hands of U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, is
apparently going to stumble into the Law of Unintended Consequences, and
the result could be the unnecessary death and suffering of thousands of
people in the future.

There is a great deal of death and suffering going on in the Third World as
a result of such diseases as AIDs. The solution is the continued innovation
and better distribution of lifesaving pharmaceutical products, as well as
the long-term development of these countries. The pharmaceutical industry
has developed a number of drugs that successfully treat, to various
degrees, AIDs and its related complexes, and these companies are doing
everything they can to get these drugs to needy countries at very low
prices?sometimes even for free. More often than not, it is not the
availability of low-cost drugs that is the problem in those countries?it is
the utter lack of a distribution network, and the lack of adequate health
care providers to make effective use of the drugs that have been made

Big, profitable pharmaceutical companies are the best friends an AIDs
victim in a Third World country could ever have. They are innovating the
drugs, and making them available. These companies should be hailed as
heroes in the global fight against AIDs.

But left-leaning activists, who always seem to see the United States and
capitalism as the source of the world's problems, see things differently.
They think that the U.S., and pharmaceutical companies, are the villains,
and they are proposing with breathtaking boldness the legalized theft of
drug patents by Third World countries.

The vehicle for this assault has been paragraph 6 of the declaration
promulgated at the WTO meeting in Doha. It states that the poorest
countries would be entitled to declare a public health emergency and compel
the licensing of drugs to treat HIV, malaria and tuberculosis ? diseases
that are particular scourges of the developing world. It is important to
state that no one, including the pharmaceutical industry, objects to this

However, in the current round of TRIPs negotiations, activists are
asserting the right of any developing country to seize any patent, or
import any generic drug, so long as it claims that is has a public health
crisis. They would not confine this right to the three diseases specified
at Doha. This represents a global assault on intellectual property of
unprecedented proportions. And the U.S. position, suggested by
Representative Zoellick's statements, is apparently to cave in to these
radical demands. Although he has stated that the US does not share the
activists' interpretation of the declaration, he has not insisted on
legally-binding language that would limit the seizure of patents to TB, HIV
and malaria.

To weaken international patent protection and allow any developing country
to steal and nationalize the intellectual property of pharmaceutical
companies will be perhaps the most glaring and destructive example of the
Law of Unintended Consequences in recent memory. If Representative Zoellick
caves in to the radical activists, it will be the end of intellectual
property protection in the Third World.

Strong intellectual property protection is a hallmark of every advanced
economy. Any hope these countries have of "developing" is at least
partially dependent on their development of private property protection,
including intellectual property protection. Without intellectual property
protection, these Third World countries will never develop to their full
economic potential. Without intellectual property protection, a country is
not developing?it is stagnant.

Perhaps even more important, if the property rights of drug companies can
be legally stripped away, they will become less profitable, which is
perhaps an ancillary goal of the activists. Why should a company spend
millions of dollars to develop a new drug if a dozen or so countries can
immediately steal the patent and begin producing bootleg versions of the
drug, with the blessing of the U.S. government?

For the United States to endorse the legalized theft of intellectual
property will betray our principles, set a bad example for developing
countries, and result in fewer new drugs created. And that means diseases
not cured and pain not relieved in the United States, as well as the
developing world.

Tom Giovanetti is president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, a
public policy think tank based in Dallas, Texas.

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