Stealing Vaccine Patents Would Be a Big Mistake

Stealing Vaccine Patents Would Be a Big Mistake
A woman receives a vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus as part of South Africa’s inoculation campaign at the Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Umlazi, south of Durban on Feb. 18, 2021. (Mlungisi Mbele /AFP via Getty Images)
Wesley J. Smith

The Chinese Communist Party is not the only national administration that believes in stealing intellectual property. The Biden administration, supported by much of the Democrat Party and their allied progressive minions in the globalist “international community,” now also support patent theft, an act that until now has always been grounds for civil liability and potential criminal culpability.

Thieves always claim to have a good excuse for their pilfering. The Chinese Communists determined long ago that patent-stealing was the fast-track to modernizing China’s economy. That’s not surprising: China is, after all, a tyranny.

But freedom requires adhering to different principles—particularly the rule of law—even when violating that norm might seem expedient and supportive of a good cause. Today, that venerable tenet of liberty is under pronounced assault from political progressives, poor countries in desperate need, and the bureaucrats at the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization.

Here’s the story: South Africa and India—both hit catastrophically by COVID—have petitioned the WTO to waive vaccine patent protections so that the inoculations can be manufactured in poor countries that have inadequate vaccine supply.

Political progressives—who believe in equality of outcomes—meaning a rush to the lowest common denominator—support the radical plan as a means of combating “vaccine nationalism” and furthering international “equity.”

The idea is opposed by the EU and well off—I would also note, free—countries like the UK, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland. The United States, always a strong defender of intellectual property rights also resisted the waiver scheme—until now.

But the Biden administration just announced that it will support the stealing of the vaccine patents in the WTO, essentially putting the United States in the same mindset as China when it comes to the inviolability of intellectual property.

Proving how powerful international progressive politics has become, the administration’s announcement received quick support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—even though Bill recently opposed such waivers because “the thing that’s holding things back in this case is not intellectual property,” Gates also worried about the safety of manufacturing such sophisticated medicinal products in poor countries with inadequate existing infrastructure. Apparently even one of the world’s richest men cares more about what the woke elite think than he does previously argued issues of principle and practicality.

But Wesley. People in poor countries are hurting from COVID! Indeed, they are, and the United States should use its considerable financial heft to help increase the vaccine supply. Certainly, nothing is stopping gazillionaires like Gates from philanthropically licensing the manufacture of vaccines and building the facilities to carry out that process carefully and expeditiously.

But it has to be said that helping those who are in dire straits is one thing. Stealing from others to do so is quite another. Equity and justice will not be served by stripping patent protections from those who invested the time, money, and scientific creativity bringing life-saving vaccines to the world in the first place.

It’s also foolhardy. Diluting patent protection for new medicines will devastate innovation and stifle investment, meaning fewer drugs brought to market. Why? As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “once stolen, IP breakthrough innovations like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech mRNA vaccines can’t be returned.” Exactly. A patent isn’t like a stolen painting or a necklace that can be restored to its rightful owner. Once the information is out there, exclusivity—which is what generates profit—will be gone forever.

Besides, support for stealing patents isn’t limited among progressives to COVID vaccines. Already, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—a bellwether of hard left thinking—tweeted “Let’s do insulin next.”

This makes little sense. Drug patents generally last 20 years, which is why so many generics are on the market today, including insulin. Yes, new and improved insulin products still get patented. But patents are why medicines are continually updated. Taking away that legal protection would grind the process of revising medicines to a screeching halt.

AOC is not alone in wanting to corrode medicinal patent protections. A “Medicare for All” proposal pending in Congress would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. If the companies refuse the price offered, the bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to permit “the use of any patent” by another company “for purposes of manufacturing such drug for sale under Medicare for All Program,” with compensation paid to the patent-owning company in an amount determined by the bureaucracy.

Again, how willing would pharmaceutical executives be to green light the billions in investments required to develop new medicines knowing that the government could simply seize their patent and license another company to manufacture it if it refused to sell the product at a price the government demands?

Patent protection is crucial to the free-market system and essential to continuing medical innovation. Indeed, without the secure knowledge that risk will be rewarded upon success by legal intellectual property protection, the dynamism and innovation that are earmarks of medicine in the West will wither. Whatever immediate benefit might be derived by stealing the vaccine would ultimately be more than offset by the new drugs never brought to market and vaccines not invented.

How shortsighted. Biden’s patent waiver support is like the hungry farmer deciding to roast the goose that lays the golden eggs. It may satisfy briefly, but the long-term detriment to the foolish farmer will be incalculable.

Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is host of the Humanize Podcast (, chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. His latest book is “Culture of Death: The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine.”
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