Corporations Block Access to Everything from Miracle Drugs to Science Research:
Should a company be able to patent a breast cancer gene? What about a species of soybean? How about a tool for basic scientific research? Or even a patent for acquiring patents?
Intellectual property rights are supposed to help inventors bring good things to life, but there’s increasing concern that they may be keeping us from getting the things we need.
In this wild and contested jungle of the law, which concerns things like patents and copyrights, questions about the implications of allowing limited monopolies on ideas are making headlines. Do they stifle innovation? Can they cause the public more harm than good? Trillions of dollars are at stake. Companies known as “patent trolls” are gobbling up patents, then going on lawsuit sprees and extracting fees against infringement. Corporations are using intellectual property law to squash competitors and block our access to things as vital as lifesaving drugs, to place restrictions on things as intimate as parts of the human body. Third World countries are kept from accessing essential public goods related to everything from food security to education.
Surely, the producers of new ideas should be able to profit from their creations. But furious debates over what should be protected and who should profit are calling attention to the many things that are going wrong in this area. For example, a recent front-page story in the New York Times detailed how diabetics are being held hostage in America by companies that follow Apple’s playbook to lock patients into buying expensive, patented products that quickly become obsolete. If you don’t buy the product, you don’t miss getting the new iPhone. You may die.