The editors of the Wall Street Journal express the reaction to President Biden’s remarks about waiving patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines that I would have expected from them:
President Biden genuflected again to progressives on Wednesday by endorsing an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization for Covid vaccines and therapies. This patent heist won’t end well for the U.S. or the world.
South Africa and India have been pushing a resolution at the WTO that would force pharmaceutical companies to hand over their Covid vaccine and therapy IP to manufacturers in low-income countries. The waiver is backed by some 100 other low-income countries, progressive groups and more than 100 Democratic Congress Members.
Waiver proponents say breaking patent protections is necessary to expand global access to vaccines. This is false. WTO rules already allow low-income countries to force drug makers to license their patents during emergencies, though they must negotiate some agreements with developers. Liberals says this is slowing vaccine production.
Yet U.S. and European drug companies have already voluntarily entered into dozens of licensing agreements with other manufacturers, many in low-income countries, as they work to scale up production. Merck last week announced licensing agreements with several Indian manufacturers to produce its investigational antiviral drug.
The Administration’s WTO waiver will break patents and legal protections for vaccine makers. Investors will be less likely to fund new drug research if they think their own government will betray them under political pressure. Chalk up another damaging victory for the Congressional left.
I have mixed feelings. Unmentioned in the editorial is that U. S. companies don’t trust many companies in other countries with their intellectual property for good reason. Rampant intellectual property piracy. These things bear risks.
But then again I think that U. S. intellectual property protections are too robust. Patents are not part of the natural order of things. They are government-granted monopolies. There’s a reason that so many developments are patented in the U. S. and it’s not just that we do so much R&D.
However, the editors are right—it will have consequences.
I have questions. Doesn’t a waivure of Pfizer and Moderna’s IP rights by executive order constitute a taking under U. S. law? Does President Biden even have the authority to do it?