Re: Labs and Lab Staff (higher education), and fancy equipment, all cost money... if breakthru, then
Posted by: Anonymous
on March 04, 2008 12:25 PM
The "drug designs should be patentable" position oversimplifies the reality. First of all, look at where a lot of the funding comes from for medical research: the public purse, either directly (government-funded research) or indirectly (government-funded health care provision). Saying that there'd be no incentive to look for cures for diseases without private investment is total fantasy - even hardened economists can state many economic benefits for doing research into medical treatments, whether the private sector is involved or not. Indeed, you can argue that the current agenda amongst drug companies - promoting cosmetic drugs for developed world "luxury" problems - actually obstructs work in fighting the real dangers to human health worldwide. And I think you'll find that when some company "finds the answer" to HIV/AIDS, they'll have built upon a lot of prior work, probably funded mostly by the public purse. It would hardly be fair if some company got to "skim off the cream" from the results of this collective effort.
As for the designs themselves, it seems wrong that you could patent a chemical formula, for example, since that is merely a statement within some kind of formal system where various natural rules dictate how the symbols may be combined, although I imagine that the US patent system probably lets companies do this, anyway. Now, the process of making chemicals, medicines, and so on might be complicated, and I can understand how people might not want others to trivially acquire knowledge that has been accumulated expensively, but then if people can successfully "reverse engineer" drugs, how non-obvious can the process to make those drugs have been? Moreover, if the process is merely a combination of widely known scientific principles, how ethical is it to let someone seal the lid and sell access to others?
Finally, in the realm of the pharmaceutical companies, there's an increasing tendency to patent genes. Although the process of discovering the "purpose" of genes can be very involved (and expensive), it is far from ethical for someone to claim ownership of the effectively natural processes that take place around such things, especially since imposing such monopoly terms on parts of the natural world may restrict access to treatments amongst particular groups of people, notably specific ethnic groups - a reprehensible outcome. If there's ever a choice between revisiting a particular model of doing business or restricting access to treatment, I'd imagine that most decent people would sacrifice the not-so-sacred cow that is the way pharmaceutical companies think they should be making money, rather than the basic right that universal access to medical treatment should be.