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Say YES to Patent Law

September 23, 2009

With all of the posters and emails going around, it seems that every Harvard student is saying yes to drugs. To generic drugs for those in the developing world who cannot afford name brand pharmaceuticals. Of course, with this basic premise and a cute slogan going around, pretty much all Harvard students (even the Crimson) have seemingly gotten behind this new campaign.

Although initially, promoting generic drugs seems like a good policy, in the long term, it may turn out to be extremely detrimental. The point of patent law is to protect the right to research and provide incentive for pharmaceutical companies to develop of new drugs by allowing them to make greater profits due to their temporary monopoly over its production. Eliminating the patent law will strip away the high potential for profit, deterring companies from producing the life-saving drugs in the first place. Profit motive provided by the United States market is the main reason that we’ve had many miraculous breakthroughs for pharmaceuticals.

To me, it seems wiser to temporarily delay the production of generic drugs in developing companies than to deter their production altogether. Promoting patent law may seem like a policy in the pockets of corporate pharmaceutical companies, but it’s actually a plan to provide lifesaving generic drugs in the long-term.

Unlike my peers, I must repeat the refrain of the great conservative role model, Nancy Reagan. Just say no!

[Jordan Monge is a Sophomore in Currier and the Membership and Publicity Director of the Harvard Republican Club.]

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nworah Ayogu permalink
    September 25, 2009 3:33 am

    Hey Jordan, thank for opening up this conversation because I definitely feel it is an important one to have.

    The first point I’d like to make is that this campaign is not about “stripping patents” but is a campaign around licensing.

    “Eliminating the patent law will strip away the high potential for profit, deterring companies from producing the life-saving drugs in the first place.”

    “Profit motive provided by the United States market is the main reason that we’ve had many miraculous breakthroughs for pharmaceuticals.”

    The changes in licensing have no effect on the US market (or that of any other developed nation). And all of Africa makes up 1.3 percent of the pharma market, and the changes and drugs we are talking about make up a fraction of that fraction, so there is no real effect on profit margin either.

    “To me, it seems wiser to temporarily delay the production of generic drugs in developing companies than to deter their production altogether.”

    I don’t really understand this last point because we are in no way attempting to deter the production of generic drugs, the campaign is designed to promote their production.

  2. Jordan Monge permalink
    September 27, 2009 2:32 am

    Let me first apologize. I did exaggerate my claims a bit in the blog post out of carelessness. The Say YES to Drugs campaign will not affect general patent law in the United States.

    It does, however, have a serious effect on Harvard’s ability to license the drugs it produces in its labs. The principles of economics that I elaborated in my post influence Harvard’s licensing process. If Harvard includes as part of the license that companies must allow for the generic production of drugs, companies are probably going to be willing to pay less for it. The money from these licenses adds up to $21 million of revenue a year for Harvard, which is equivalent to the income of about 467 full-time employees or could pay for hot breakfast in all the houses for the next 23 years. Furthermore, that is money that Harvard can use to build up the endowment to the point where all expenses can be paid from the dividends, which would allow it to then use greater discretion for its donations, etc. I do not think that now is the appropriate time to stifle Harvard’s ability to make profit, even if that money could go to a good cause. There are many good causes, and Harvard has to pick and choose between them.

    I would also argue that, if successful, the Say YES to Drugs campaign will deter the production of these drugs. The profit incentive is extremely important. If Harvard can make more profits by producing drugs which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the new licensing agreements, then it very well might reduce its research and development of the drugs that do.

    I think my biggest problem is the fact that most people swiftly give their assent to the campaign without considering the full economic implications of their support. It’s easy to say, “we should help the poor in Africa” and to end up making things worse through poor policy choices. We should consider the complete implications of our ideas before we implement them. I haven’t seen any solid analysis of the Say Yes to Drugs campaign yet. (My thoughts, as you’ve seen, were only the most rudimentary criticisms.)

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