June 25, 2005

Brazil Threatens to Break AIDS Drug Patent

Brazilian law allows the government to violate a drug patent if in the public interest. The health ministry there may be about to do that, producing a generic version of an AIDS drug called Kaletra if a U.S. pharmaceutical company doesn't lower its prices for it. AIDS activists say patents are bad for health.

The practice of a government-sanctioned violation of intellectual property is often known as a "compulsory license," a sort of nuclear option in the world of IP. Brazil, India, and African nations have used the threat of compulsory licensing to persuade big drug companies to negotiate.

The companies, of course, often have complaints, and protest that if they don't get paid enough for their product, the lost revenues will impede research on new drugs. This "lost revenue" idea is the same flawed (to be generous) thinking that software, music and film companies employ in the propaganda war against piracy of their intellectual properties. In both cases the IP owners assume that everyone currently benefiting from cheap or free versions would pay the full price if only the cheap or free versions weren't available. However, most AIDS patients in the third world simply can't afford the full price of AIDS treatments and would just suffer and die. Similarly, though of course much less serious, most music and movie "pirates" couldn't and wouldn't possibly afford to buy the "official" version of every item they obtain illicitly, and if the illegal copy weren't available, they would, in most cases, simply go without.

I can't point to any hard statistics to back this up, but it seems self-evident.

Posted by steev at June 25, 2005 02:50 PM