Intellectual Property Rights Matter

While the American public’s and the media’s attention has been focused on the seemingly endless cycle of political dramas that unfold every day–the impending fight over the debt ceiling, the potential government shutdown, the debate over the budget deficit and our long-term fiscal problems, an international crisis in Syria that was ineptly handled by American leadership–the US has quietly been involved in critical trade negotiations that, when codified, may fundamentally alter how we do business with certain parts of the world.

Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries located along both the Eastern and Western sides of the Pacific, have been ongoing since 2008, but talks have recently entered their 19th round.

As the U.S. participates in these international trade agreement negotiations, it is of crucial importance that we remember that patent protection–both domestic and international–is vitally important to encouraging medical innovation both at home and abroad, and further, to patients hoping for treatments.

In many countries, laws protecting intellectual property rights have been essentially ignored: for instance, in 2012 alone, 9 US patent-protected products had their patent rights either denied or revoked in India.

Indeed, India and a number of other developing countries have repeated flouted international agreements concerning patent protection and intellectual property rights in order to keep their domestic pharmaceutical industries going and growing, at the expense of the innovative companies and individuals that have spent years and billions of dollars developing new medicines.

Although India is not a participant in the TPP negotiations, we would do well to make effective patent protections a key part of the agreement’s agenda, in order to drive home the point that bypassing international laws–and effectively stealing work worth billions of dollars–is not an acceptable way to operate in an international system.

Strong protection of intellectual property rights, and patents, specifically, encourage investments in life-changing and life-saving new treatments that bring hope to doctors, patients, and patients’ families worldwide.

Many companies have been pursuing cures for diseased such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer for decades–which means that they’ve invested billions of dollars into research, development, and testing, with no return. Despite this, they will continue working in the hopes that someday soon a cure will be found for the some of the most serious diseases human kind has encountered, and is fighting every day.

However, when that day comes and a breakthrough is finally made, it is only fair that we make sure that these companies and doctors get a return that will get them out of the multi-billion dollar financial holes they dig themselves into during the years they dedicate to finding these cures.

Indeed, companies that research and produce new medicines operate under an overwhelmingly tough business model: studies have found that for every 5,000 to 10,000 experimental medicines considered, typically only one will gain FDA approval–and this is after 10 to 15 years of research and development costing an average of $1.2 billion. Thus, a few successes must make up for thousands of failures. As the end of the day, only two out of every 10 medicines will completely regain the money spent on their development.

Without patent protection, investing in the discovery of new medicines is all risk and no potential payoff. A billion dollar investment with no hope of return is a risk that we cannot expect even the most altruistic to make. We have to provide some incentives to keep innovation moving at the pace it currently is.

Finally, the pharmaceutical industry employs, either directly or indirectly, a full 30% of the US workforce. Protecting intellectual property is good for those who hope for real innovation in health care, and furthermore, it keeps hard working Americans employed and is good for the American economy.

Indeed, maintaining the policies that enforce intellectual property rights is one of the few issues today that we can say truly has bipartisan support–politicians, legislators and pundits on both sides of the political aisle recognize that in order to keep our industries competitive, encourage innovation and make potentially life-saving advancements in the field of health care, we must protect the incentives that drive researchers–and the companies and capital that back them–to continue to reinvest in the pursuit of new medicines and new solutions.

Thus, even while we are in the throes of the Congressional gridlock and political brinksmanship that regularly capture headlines, we must remember to advocate for policies that are, in the long-term, no less important than those affecting our budget–policies that generate strong intellectual property incentives, encourage the discovery of important new medicines for patients, and give doctors the chance to continue to improve the quality of life for people living world-wide.