April 26 is World Intellectual Property (IP) Day, a day to marvel at the innovations that make the modern world possible. Given the struggles over the past year to fight the coronavirus pandemic, IP protections have never been more critical. Thanks to America’s stalwart record in defending patent holders, drug manufacturers and testing companies have marshaled maximum resources to kick the deadly virus to the curb. But, we must not let down our guard; proposals to undermine IP rights are unfortunately a dime a dozen. This World IP Day, let’s celebrate and protect the entrepreneurs who are constantly redefining what is possible.
World IP Day 2020 came at a very bleak time for the country and the world. Last April, nations, states, and localities across the world had locked down with little prospect of reopening anytime soon. Even the most optimistic analysts projected that it would be a year and a half before a vaccine could be made available to the public to curb the coronavirus. As these grim predictions were being made, researchers were tirelessly tinkering and testing mRNA vaccines to see how they would interact with humans and respond to an increasingly unpredictable virus.
We now know that these efforts were not in vain, and the first shots found their way into millions of arms by the end of 2020. As of the end of April 2021, more than half of U.S. adults (and about 80 percent of seniors) have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. But this medical marvel simply would not have happened were it not for robust IP protections. As legal scholar and former United States Patent and Trademark Office official Andrei Lancu notes, the drug and vaccine rollout effort “depends on $100 billion in annual private-sector investment, on top of billions in taxpayer money. Kill the patents taken out on these advances and you kill the incentive to invest.”
Unfortunately, some pundits and politicians are pushing to eliminate IP protections for these lifesaving products. Calls have grown louder for a compulsory licensing regime which would allow countries to ignore patent protections and greenlight the production of knockoff vaccines without the permission of originating companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. But there is little to back up assertions by IP critics that patent protections are slowing the global rollout of vaccines. In fact, companies like Novartis and Sanofi are teaming up with rivals such as Pfizer/BioNTech to ensure that competition doesn’t get in the way of joint production. And, vaccine manufacturers have opted to share proprietary information rather than jealously guard their IP. But these ventures could quickly come to an end if companies use the long arm of the government to insist on wantonly appropriating vaccine patents instead of working with innovators to bring the pandemic to an end.
Organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) have been leading the fight for continued IP protection. As in previous years, ATR is spearheading a massive international coalition letter calling for governments to respect and protect IP rights. ATR and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance have been making the case to global leaders that compulsory licensing would be a major setback to vaccination efforts. Political leaders around the world must also leap into the fray and dismiss the false promise of IP waivers. Innovation can thrive and save millions of lives, but only with proper safeguards in place for investing the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for research and development.
The breakneck pace of vaccine development need not end once the pandemic ends. Next-generation technologies can conquer various cancers and fight deadly diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but only with the right incentives in place.
Future World IP Days could be a testament to this success, or a melancholy memorial to innovations long past. It’s time to reiterate our commitment to IP protections and turbocharge innovation and growth for decades to come.