Patents and Intellectual Property Rights: Corporate Power vs The Common Good

One of the Alliance Party’s worst fears around the TPP has been confirmed by the text from the agreement released by Wikileaks recently. The U.S. is pushing for much stricter patent controls.

Patents seem on the face of it, a great idea. They work well at an individual level. You have a bright idea, you patent it so no one else can steal it and you can make a few bob out of it. That’s fine if we’re only talking about new styles of table cutlery or garden hose fittings. But when the discovery is a drug that can cure life threatening diseases or sustainable energy technology that could help to halt global warming, patents are much less benign. Harsh patent laws do not work for the common good of people or the planet.

When the stakes are high, everyone wants a piece of the action and the patent holder/manufacturer can charge what they like. Very quickly the discovery becomes out of reach for many of the people who could benefit from it. A patent on a particular highly sought after new drug can push the price up so much that people who can afford it live and those who can’t die. Doctors without Borders put it very bluntly. They say the TPP puts patents before patients.

Corporates justify patents by claiming they have to recoup money spent on research and development. However much vital research is publicly funded. Most governments give research grants and often the early stages of the research is done in a publicly funded tertiary institution. It could also be argued that in the case of health care, governments pay the full cost of research and development (and much more) through the increased cost of drugs caused by restrictive patent laws.

Dialogue between countries around intellectual copyright needs to be about how to make essential information, research, and development open source so that it is freely available to whoever needs it, not about tightening up patent and intellectual property rights to protect corporate profits.

The TPP, as it stands, is nothing but a corporate wish list. At the top of that wish list is to have an unfettered ability to make as much money as possible out of the rest of us. We cannot afford to be so naïve and gullible as to be conned into signing it.

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