Abuses of Intellectual Property Rights

Genomic Medicine is becoming commonplace in the US and I am sure developing countries like India will catch up soon. Each major advancement in Science brings along with it certain ethical & moral issues related to business practices by greedy companies. The case of the pharmaceutical Company Myriad Genetics is just one example of corporate greed. This company, for the first time, identified the genes called BRCA1 & BRCA2 which are related to Breast & Ovarian cancers respectively. More specifically, this company correlated variations (technically called mutations) in the said genes with incidence of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in patients. Myriad Genetics applied for a patent on this and have been happily monopolizing the business of screening patients for specific mutations of these genes. The US Supreme Court , in a historic judgment in June this year, rightly ruled that Genes cannot be patented. Everyone thought the monopoly of Myriad Genetics would end. However, the company came up with an ingenious (or is it devious?) method to maintain its monopoly. They declared that the data base created by them on gene mutations on breast cancer patients is their Intellectual property and therefore cannot be shared with the public. In other words they are now monopolizing genetic data. And without this data, other Medical practitioners will not be in a position to assess & interpret the significance of gene testing and mutations occurring in the BRCA genes, while screening new patients. To understand how rediculous this is, consider a scenario where one doctor or a company has the record of all clinical reports (like X-Ray etc) of the entire humanity and refuses to share the data with others. Without this data and its correlations with symptoms, how else will the rest of the guys learn? The medical community learns by sharing data on case studies, which benefits the entire humanity in terms of better health care and treatment.
Reacting to the unreasonable claims of ownership by Myriad Genetics on genetic data of patients, the American Medical Association, in an exemplary move, declared this data monopoly as unethical. The association further demanded that the data be made available in the public domain.
Incidents such as these makes one conclude that IPR (Intellectual property rights) is perhaps doing more harm than good to the humanity. In the recent past we have come across the following cases of misuse of IPR by companies. First, it was Novartis trying to exploit with incremental innovations on the Cancer drug Glivec, the patent for which was struck down by the Indian Courts in a recent historic judgment. Second, we have just seen how the US courts have banned patenting Genes. And third instance of abuse comes from the case of Myriad Genetics trying to monopolize clinical data. Each one of these abuses has far-reaching consequences on the cost & quality of health care for the humanity.
Votaries of IPR may insist that without such rights, there would be hardly any incentive for innovation by private companies. On the face of it, this argument appears logical. After all Private sector companies are credited with most of the revolutionary innovations over the years. Right? No, completely wrong! Surprised? Here is an interesting article from the Magazine NEW SCIENTIST, which refutes this contention with solid facts. The article proves that the private sector dominance of innovation is a myth. The article makes an amazing statement –
Forget Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. It is government that should be credited for backing wealth creating technology in the past century.
I reproduce below salient portions of the article:
“Whether an innovation will be a success is uncertain and it can take longer than traditional banks or venture capitalists are willing to wait. In countries such as the US, China, Singapore and Denmark the state has provided the kind of patient and long-term finance new technologies need to get off the ground. Investments of this kind have often been driven by big missions, from putting a human on the moon, to solving climate change. This has required not only funding basic research – the typical “public good” that most economists admit needs state help – but applied research and seed funding too..Apple is a perfect example. In its early stages the company received government cash support via a $500,000 small business investment company grant. And every technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone owes its vision and funding to the state: the internet, GPS, touchscreen displays and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri all received state cash. The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) bankrolled the internet, and the CIA and the military funded GPS. So, although the US is sold to us as the model example of progress through private enterprise, innovation there has benefited from a very interventionist state.The examples don’t just come from the military arena, either. The US National Institutes of Health spends around $30 billion every year on pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and is responsible for 75 per cent of the most innovative new drugs annually. Even the algorithm behind Google benefited from US National Science Foundation (NSF) funding.Across the world we see state investment banks financing innovation. Green energy is a great example. From Germany’s KfW state bank to the Chinese and Brazilian development banks, state-run finance is playing an increasing role in the development of the next big thing: green tech.
Recognising the state as a lead risk-taker, and enabling it to reap a reward, will not only make the innovation system stronger, it will also spread the profits of growth more fairly. This will ensure that education, health and transport can benefit from state investments in innovation, instead of just the small number of people who see themselves as wealth creators, while relying increasingly on the courageous, entrepreneurial state.”
Published in: on September 8, 2013 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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