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Violating A Patent As Moral Choice

Zonk posted about 9 years ago | from the life-over-profit dept.

Patents 967

kuzmich writes "The Taiwanese government has announced that it will violate patent laws to manufacture a drug that can help fight bird flu virus. In doing so, they have spelled out their reasoning very clearly: 'We have tried our best to negotiate with Roche, it means we have shown our goodwill to Roche and we appreciate their patent. But to protect our people is the utmost important thing'. Not being in Taiwan, this makes me wonder how bad the situation would have to be for some of the other governments to follow a path of violating patent and copyright laws for the benefit of the general population. Are there precedents, procedures for doing so?"

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Pish post (-1, Offtopic)

bzarhandz (734876) | about 9 years ago | (#13854619)

I, for one, welcome our new viral overlords.

Re:Pish post (-1, Troll)

Ceirren (849938) | about 9 years ago | (#13854638)

I, for one, hate you

Re:Pish post (0, Offtopic)

sheppos (633308) | about 9 years ago | (#13854715)

I for one would have modded this up. Do what you will, it's not as if karma matters.

Not right! (5, Funny)

GFLPraxis (745118) | about 9 years ago | (#13854620)

Patent laws are far more important than human lives; what gives them the right to do this?

Just kidding, of course. Good for Taiwan. Patent laws should not cause the death of people.

Re:Not right! (4, Insightful)

pivo (11957) | about 9 years ago | (#13854686)

One interesting question related to this seems to be, at what point does it become ethical for a country to ignore patent laws to save its citizenry? How many people have to be threatened to make it acceptable?

Tiwan is acting in the face of a pandemic. What about less widespread, but equally fatal diseases? For example, why isn't it equally ethical for a country to ignore patent laws for cancer drugs? Why hasn't this already been done for AIDS drugs?

I'm all for this, by the way. I hope this emboldens other countries to do the right thing for its citizens.

I don't blame them. (5, Interesting)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | about 9 years ago | (#13854624)

They have their priorities straight. Stopping a potential pandemic is more important than not stepping on a businessman's toes.

Re:I don't blame them. (2, Insightful)

DoorFrame (22108) | about 9 years ago | (#13854700)

That's sort of true, definitely true in the short term, but you've got to look at the issue from a long term point of view as well. The system we've currently established is that drug manufacturers outlay a truly phenomenal amount of money to develop and test any particular drug. They do this on the assumption that they will, in the future, be able to charge good money for the results of their research. If they can't charge for it in the future, there's no incentive for them to develop new drugs today.

Now, one country destroying one patent is not going to eliminate the profit incentive for the drug developers. And in a situation where the drugs are badly needed (I don't know how true that is in Taiwan, but my guess is that since the disease doesn't affect people yet the answer is not very) there's a moral calculus that has to go into making this sort of decision. Is it worth it to hand out free drugs today at the possible cost of not having drugs to hand out at any cost in the future?

You're going to have to look at every individual situation and decide if the tradeoff is worthwhile.

Do you think the current phantom bird flue pandemic is worth risking future drug development over? I'd say you'd have a much better argument for taking away that patents on AIDs drugs than bird flu drugs.

Re:I don't blame them. (1)

queef_latina (847562) | about 9 years ago | (#13854742)

That's sort of true, definitely true in the short term, but you've got to look at the issue from a blah blah blah long term point of view as blah blah blah blah...

*yaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnn* oh man, I'm just so sleepy. I can't seem to keep my eyes open.

Re:I don't blame them. (1)

jcr (53032) | about 9 years ago | (#13854780)

The system we've currently established is that drug manufacturers outlay a truly phenomenal amount of money to develop and test any particular drug.

Let's not forget that the costs of obtaining permission to market a drug can dwarf the actual research costs.


Re:I don't blame them. (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | about 9 years ago | (#13854788)

You have a good point...Perhaps if they deemed the drug to be critical enough, the governments of whatever nations were involved could try to compensate the original pharmaceutical company for its losses? I'm not sure how much the company would need/want and how much the government(s) would be able to give in compensation, so I can't say for sure if that would be feasible.

Do you really understand the danger of bird flu? (1)

benhocking (724439) | about 9 years ago | (#13854790)

I know that I don't. I agree with your sentiment, btw, except that I'm not sure that the bird flu doesn't rise to the level of violating patent law. I think you might be right, but I suspect they know more about the possible pandemic than you do.

The analogy I've seen is to New Orleans. By the time the flood hit, it was too late to fix the levys. Similarly, if the bird flu pandemic does hit humans, at that point it might be too late to begin producing these drugs.

Re:I don't blame them. (1, Flamebait)

Mateito (746185) | about 9 years ago | (#13854802)

Drugs that cure people don't make money. Healthy people don't use drugs.
Drugs that don't cure people don't make money. Dead people don't use drugs.

Drugs that control an incurable disease make the money. Sick people use drugs.

Where is the incentive to develop new drugs that work? There will never be a cure for cancer. There is no money in it.

Re:I don't blame them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854785)

I agree with you.

But it's important to realize the flip-side of this argument. If EVERYONE started just ignoring drug patents, no company on earth would pour the requisite billions into the necessary research. And no revolutionary new drugs would be developed.

There has to be a balance.

Yikes (1)

XanC (644172) | about 9 years ago | (#13854625)

Risky move, considering the support of the United States is what keeps them from being a province of China...

Re:Yikes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854652)

...and once they're a province of China they won't care about any of the IP laws.

Re:Yikes (0, Offtopic)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | about 9 years ago | (#13854670)

Well, I think our government would rather them violate a few IP laws for humanitarian reasons than put more resources at China's disposal.

Re:Yikes (2, Insightful)

SpamSlapper (162584) | about 9 years ago | (#13854671)

What has the United States got to do with it?
Roche is a Swiss company.

Re:Yikes (2, Interesting)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | about 9 years ago | (#13854744)

Yes, but as the US tends to be the world policeman of IP law, retribution might come in the form of threats to stop defending them. There are, however, a couple of reasons the US probably wouldn't do this, which I described in a response to the parent post.

Re:Yikes (5, Funny)

smchris (464899) | about 9 years ago | (#13854699)

Roche is Swiss. I'm sure China, mainland or Taiwanese, quakes in fear at the thought of the Swiss navy launching an assault.

Re:Yikes (2, Funny)

cytoman (792326) | about 9 years ago | (#13854777)

Imagine that! The Swiss army armed with those deadly Swiss Army Knives!!!

Re:Yikes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854710)

I wonder what if I was at the inverse: "Taiwan decides to let all its citizens die before violating the Roche patent".. You could say: "Risky move, since their citizens are what they make them a country"... Your commentary is non sense.

A Simple Solution (5, Informative)

MinutiaeMan (681498) | about 9 years ago | (#13854633)

It seems to me that in a case such as this, it would be perfectly acceptable to invoke the principle of Eminent Domain [] . If this isn't a situation that involved the public's interest, I don't know what is!

Re:A Simple Solution (5, Insightful)

DoorFrame (22108) | about 9 years ago | (#13854668)

Well, yeah, but with eminent domain you need pay the market value for what your taking. Since there's already a market value for the drug, one which Taiwan refused to pay, you'll need to come up with another justification.

Re:A Simple Solution (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 9 years ago | (#13854731)

I'd agree with you, but companies/individuals have a nasty habit of price gouging in emergencies when they can (yeah, yeah, maximise profit, blah, blah, blah) and as evidenced by the hugely varying prices on drugs in 1st World countries with more similiar pay scales, drug companies may do this too.

Though I'm not asserting this is the necessarily case here. Taiwan itself may be the party in wrong just as well.

Re:A Simple Solution (2, Insightful)

sam_handelman (519767) | about 9 years ago | (#13854739)

That's inaccurate - there is a *monopoly* value for the drug, which Taiwan refused to pay.

  Patents are market distortions - every bit as much as tariffs and trade barriers.

  More traditional exercise of emminent domain recognizes similar principles, by the way - the government gets to set the price, the owners of the property can't hold out for more than market value in the event that there is an emergency and sudden demand.

Re:A Simple Solution (4, Interesting)

MinutiaeMan (681498) | about 9 years ago | (#13854765)

Hmm... I'm not saying you're wrong, but can't the government effectively decide/dictate its own "fair" price when invoking eminent domain? I've read a few stories in the past about people whose houses have been condemned for some highway project, complaining that they weren't paid enough for their property. So they can provide some compensation, but not the "market" price (which, let's face it, is decided by the pharmaceutical cartels -- er, I mean, companies -- anyway?). Most medicines are so ridiculously overpriced it's not even funny. (Like my one month's prescription that would cost $480 without insurance...)

At any rate, at the very least, the government can just take what it wants in the name of national security. It's what the US government did many times with new technologies that were needed for the war effort during World War II...

Re:A Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854774)

What the appropriating goverment considers to be "Market Value" may be vastly different from what a given commodity is worth. Take the Roosevelt era precious metal confiscation. The federal reserve note compensation that was paid to the owners of gold and silver was not the same as the "market" would have paid them.

Re:A Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854674)

Er..too bad eminent domain still requires the gubmint to pay up. Taiwan just doesn't want to write a big check. Surprise.

Re:A Simple Solution (2, Interesting)

cshotton (46965) | about 9 years ago | (#13854737)

Patents are "nationalized" all the time in the defense/intelligence world. If you invent something that gives the US (for example) a technological edge (say a new rocket engine, a directed energy weapon, or some such), it is very likely that the US Government will exempt itself from any protections patent law may afford you. In fact, they may classify your patent and "disappear" it from the public record. This happens all the time. It just happens that in this case, Taiwan's national interests are being served by a anti-viral compound instead of a piece of military technology. The precedents are the same and I'd expect you'd see similar rationale used in the US if it ever became necessary to do so.

Re:A Simple Solution (1)

dtfinch (661405) | about 9 years ago | (#13854776)

In fact, they may classify your patent and "disappear" it from the public record. This happens all the time.

If they rob you, you might be less inclined to make sure that nobody accidentally lets the cat out of the bag.

Re:A Simple Solution (1)

jcr (53032) | about 9 years ago | (#13854798)

Except for the hazard of being convicted of espionage...


Re:A Simple Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854751)

Here is the problem. Eminent domain requires that the government pay the party "Just Compensation", that is, a fair market price, for whatever is taken. Eminent domain is used mostly for people who behave non-rationally (from an economics point of view). For example, the elderly woman who refuses to leave her home that must be bull-dozed to make way for the new highway.

Assuming that Roche is behaving rationally, what Taiwan is really trying to do is simply take the patent, without paying a fair-market price (which Roche would assuredly accept).

The long term effects, of course, is the removal of an incentive for corporations to develop drugs to deal with these sorts of outbreaks. If they are paid nothing, or trivially small amounts, for their patents, then they will cease spending on R&D to develop future drugs.

Just like the call for governments to ignore AIDS patents in Africa, this is not a case of countries from being unable to acquire the drugs. Instead, they simply do not want to pay for them.

Not that this is necessarily a bad idea. But the consequences must be acknowledged

Good form. (1, Insightful)

seann (307009) | about 9 years ago | (#13854635)

Go Taiwan!

Theft is theft whichever way you look at it. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854642)

However, in certain circumstances it may be justified. This is one of those circumstances. It's similar to poorer countries like Africa and China using stolen copies of Windows. They can't be expected to pay for it.

Re:Theft is theft whichever way you look at it. (1)

sexyrexy (793497) | about 9 years ago | (#13854682)

It's similar to poorer countries like Africa and China using stolen copies of Windows. They can't be expected to pay for it.

Actually, it's not like that at all. You're not going to die if you can't obtain your own copy of Windows 2000. Your analogy is more akin to saying "I can't afford a new computer, so I will go to Best Buy and steal one." Just because you don't have enough money for something doesn't mean you have the right to obtain it through other means. This situation is what they call "dire". Stealing copies of software for your poor is what they call "cheating to get ahead".

Re:Theft is theft whichever way you look at it. (0, Redundant)

tehwebguy (860335) | about 9 years ago | (#13854746)

not quite, there is no open source alternative to the vaccine.

Re:Theft is theft whichever way you look at it. (1)

Decameron81 (628548) | about 9 years ago | (#13854748)

And of course, infringing on a patent is not theft.

Seriously, even if you think it's inmoral (I personally don't think ideas should have a propietary) you should at least realize that it's pretty different from stealing something. The whole idea that there can be "theft" when we're talking about intellectual property is just a way to try and make it look worse than it is.

Obligatory Monty Python Quote... (5, Funny)

Daedalus-Ubergeek (600951) | about 9 years ago | (#13854643)

It has also now spread to Europe, with the latest possible case reported in an imported parrot in the UK.

No no he's not dead, he's, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, isn't it, eh? Beautiful plumage!

meh (2, Insightful)

bLindmOnkey (744643) | about 9 years ago | (#13854647)

"laws are a human institution!" sure they'll get in trouble, but why not do what's best for humanity?

Proof! (1)

miyako (632510) | about 9 years ago | (#13854651)

This proves it...the bird flu was a virus developed by the communist anti-profit evil open source devils in order to thward patents! I say we execute all of the murdring commies for this devestating blow to the world economy! </scarcasm>

There go blizzard's plans... (1)

aapold (753705) | about 9 years ago | (#13854654)

to eliminate chinese loot farmers in world of warcraft...

Nothing new (4, Interesting)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | about 9 years ago | (#13854657)

This happened routinely during WWII in the US with patents and forced licensing agreements for technology deemed crucial to the war effort. Even my own great grandfather's manufacturing business (springs) was confiscated due to his ethnic background.

Damn the patents...full speed ahead! (1)

Easy2RememberNick (179395) | about 9 years ago | (#13854659)

A billion dead World wide versus honoring the patent, tough call ;)

  If this was done for AIDS who knows what it would be like these days.

Re:Damn the patents...full speed ahead! (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 9 years ago | (#13854711)

big difference between AIDS and bird flu, AIDS does not carry any risk of rapid near complete infection of large cities, while bird flu does.

Nationalizing AIDS drug patens would KILL a huge amount of for profit AIDS research. while nationalizing a drug to prevent a pandemic keeps that disease from destroying the economy

Without Roche.... (2, Insightful)

mi (197448) | about 9 years ago | (#13854663)

There'd be now patent.

And no vaccine...

Re:Without Roche.... (1)

nz_mincemeat (192600) | about 9 years ago | (#13854766)

Taiwan is not copying the vaccine. There is still no vaccine.


Tamiflu, made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, cannot cure bird-flu but is widely seen as the best anti-viral drug to fight it, correspondents say.

Re:Without Roche.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854771)

There is no vaccine.

It's an antiviral drug that happens to work against H5N1. No way to tell if it'd be effective against specific mutations of it however. Nor is their work particularly groundbreaking, someone else would've developed the same thing.

Re:Without Roche.... (1)

LetterRip (30937) | about 9 years ago | (#13854803)

[QUOTE]Without Roche.... There'd be now patent. And no vaccine...[/QUOTE]

Tamilflu (Oseltamivir) was developed by Gilead Sciences, who licensed it to Roche. Thus Roche is the marketer and distributor, not the creator. I haven't been able to find yet whether Oseltamivir was actually a University developement yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were. The majority of novel drugs research is funded by governments, developed by universities, then commercialized by pharmaceutical companys. The majority of pharma R&D is 'me too' drugs to get around patents, not novel drugs.


Common trend? (1)

SkyFire360 (889512) | about 9 years ago | (#13854664)

This may be a good trend, if other governments follow suit. What would the precedent be now if someone found a proven cure for a disease - say, AIDS or Leukemia - but could not put it out into the world because the gene it was based off of was patented? []

Potentially dumb question (1, Interesting)

RsG (809189) | about 9 years ago | (#13854666)

What about the concept of "eminent domain", such as what exists in the 'states. Wouldn't that apply here?

Patent laws essentially make private property out of ideas/designs/etc. Eminent domain is the legal right of government to take private property if the need arises. It's usually applied for things like public works (roads and the like), but I can see an equivalent application in emergency situations like a looming viral outbreak.

I would assume that legally they can do this if their laws have a provision for seizure of private property in times of emergency. Of course, IANAL, and I know exactly zilch about Taiwanese law, but it seems too obvious a legal provision not to have.

This has happened before (4, Informative)

cowbutt (21077) | about 9 years ago | (#13854667)

An Indian company has pledged to manufacture patent-busting Tamiflu, and generic HIV drugs are being made in Brazil in violation of patents.

Good luck to 'em all, I say; saving lives trumps patents.

Re:This has happened before (2, Informative)

cascino (454769) | about 9 years ago | (#13854698)

The government of Brazil manufactured generic AZT in the 90's and the United States was on the brink of an ugly lawsuit in protection of the rights of GlaxoSmithKline. (I believe) the rest of the world eventually put pressure on the US to back away and a compromise was reached.

Given the current climate of fear with respect to the bird flu scare, I would imagine Taiwan will ultimately face little opposition for such a move.

Re:This has happened before (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 9 years ago | (#13854730)

the problem is that if the practice spreads to say, Europe and USA commercial AIDS R&D will be paralysed. nationalizing is good for emergencies because you don't have time for the free market to find a more optimal than government mandated solution. but anything short of an emergency you will hurt progress.

Re:This has happened before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854736)

yeah......great for them trying to save people who can't the concept of a condom and personal responsibility.

Drug manufacturing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854672)

can be protected by keeping it secret. This applies to any 'process' that you want to protect.

Patent law gives a 17-year monopoly to the first one to invent something, irrespective of whether the time to independently rediscover it would be one week or one century.

By keeping it secret, you get a monopoly for the exact time it takes for someone else to independently rediscover the invention. This is both simple and fair for inventions that cannot be easily reverse-engineered.

Wikipedia sez... (5, Informative)

Mr.Progressive (812475) | about 9 years ago | (#13854673)

Wikipedia sez [] : interpretive statement, the Doha Declaration, was issued in November 2001, which indicated that TRIPs should not prevent states from dealing with public health crises. Since then PhRMA, the United States and, to a lesser extent, other developed nations, have been working to minimise the effect of the declaration. TRIPs provides for "compulsory licencing", which allows a national government to issue a licence for the production of drugs without the consent of the patent owner as long as those drugs are primarily for the domestic market. A 2003 agreement loosened the domestic market requirement, and allows developing countries to export to other countries where there is a national health problem as long as drugs exported are not part of a commercial or industrial policy [1]. Drugs exported under such a regime may be packaged or colored differently to prevent them from prejudicing markets in the developed world.

[OT] Good post (1)

empaler (130732) | about 9 years ago | (#13854743)

A comment that is quite actually relevant, unbiased (as it consists mostly of a quote) and is very much applaudable. We need more of this on slashdot.

Reminds me of KOTOR (1, Insightful)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | about 9 years ago | (#13854677)

Reminds me of the scene in Knights of the Old Republic, in the Taris Undercity, where you kill a group of Sith troopers, steal the Sith-deveoped rakghoul antidote from their corpses, bring it to an independent doctor - and receive light-side points because he'll make more of the antidote and give it away freely.

Of course you feel like it's the light-side choice when you're playing the game, but think of the Sith researchers who probably have nothing to do with the empire's evil policies. They aren't getting compensated at all for their efforts (which were intended to save people's lives), and probably don't survive the destruction of Taris. Or are they also in the same category as building contractors on the second Death Star?

Is it reasonable to claim that the Sith researchers as well as the Tamiflu scientists are in a category of people who don't do enough good? (That is, good job for joining a field where your work saves people's lives, but you should be a lot more altruistic when people's lives are, after all, at stake.)

Re:Reminds me of KOTOR (1)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | about 9 years ago | (#13854735)

Curses. </i>

Government at its finest (3, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | about 9 years ago | (#13854678)

First they make you spend tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory rescosts to pass their tests.

Then they allow tort laws to get out of control, letting you get sued for billions.

They make you wait a decade for approval (or not).

They offer you a monopoly on your invention.

Then they take it back so their friends and family in pharmaceuticals can make it with zero of your costs involved.

Forced Licenses (1)

TDDPirate (689284) | about 9 years ago | (#13854683)

Patent laws already have procedures for forced licensing (I am not sure I used the correct legal terms).

If a patent owner refuses to practice his patent in a country with such a legal provision, and he refuses to license other parties to practice the patent - then a potential licensee can obtain a forced license after court appeal.
The party, which obtained a forced license, then pays royalties to the patent owner at rate set by the court.

In Israel, there was such a case several years ago. A company registered a patent in Israel on a certain medication, and then refused to sell it in Israel or license its manufacture to an Israeli company. The reason was that the company in question wanted to do business with Arab countries, and they would boycott it if it did business also with Israel.

An Israeli company got a forced license and manufactured the medication in question.
If I am not mistaken, the Israeli company in this case was Teva.

Brazil (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854684)

Brazil announced a few years ago that it would not honor patents for some AIDS drugs. They said that the governement would be making and distributing the drugs for free and Phizer or whomever it was could go jump in the lake.

Oh yes, here it is. []

The common problem with intellectual property (1)

dtfinch (661405) | about 9 years ago | (#13854685)

People invest great amounts of money into the creation of information, which is then infinitely reproduceable, and the only way for them to be compensated is to only allow use of that information by those who can afford to pay. There has to be another way, but I can't imagine one that isn't very problematic in other areas. It's hard to seperate those who can't pay from those tho don't want to, justify your methods of discrimination, prevent exploitation of loopholes, etc.

Blown out of all proportion... (2, Insightful)

InsaneLampshade (890845) | about 9 years ago | (#13854690)

"Bird flu has killed at least 60 people in Asia since December 2003" Sixty people died in two years, oh no, if we don't cure it soon we'll all be dead!!! No offence, but is this really something we need to be worrying about?? Doesn't normal flu kill more people per year?

Re:Blown out of all proportion... (2, Informative)

cplusplus (782679) | about 9 years ago | (#13854757)

From wikipedia - "In May 2005, scientists urgently call nations to prepare for a global influenza pandemic that could strike as much as 20% of the world's population." The flu the World Health Organization and CDC fear the most right now is bird flu. Specifically one similar to the H5N1 virus that was mentioned in the article. It has "a mortality rate of over 50%". I guess Taiwan is taking them seriously.

Re:Blown out of all proportion... (1)

headLITE (171240) | about 9 years ago | (#13854767)

What people are worried about is not dying from bird flu. The number of people that die from human flu is larger by orders of magnitude, but there is a vaccine. What people worry about is that the bird flu virus and the human flu virus might combine to create *another* flu virus that affects humans as badly as the other human flu viruses do, and which we're not in any way close to mass producing a vaccine for, similar to what happened in the 50ies in Asia and also in 1918 worldwide.

Re:Blown out of all proportion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854794)

Unbelievable comment. Read up on the 1918 influenza pandemic and you might understand why almost all the world's public health authorities view bird flu with the gravest concern.

Put another way, at some point HIV/AIDS would only have killed 60 people in a two year period.

Re:Blown out of all proportion... (1)

Tomfrh (719891) | about 9 years ago | (#13854804)

You don't understand the issue. The concern is that the bird flu may mutate in such a way that allows efficient spreading between humans. Then you might be talking deaths in the tens of millions. It has happened before. Google "Spanish bird flu". It is certainly worth worrying about.

Precendent (0, Redundant)

lilmouse (310335) | about 9 years ago | (#13854691)

Well, there's always eminent domain. That's a similar concept in the US, where a method is as tangible property as a piece of land is. Some might say owning a process and owning a piece of land both make no sense...


Moral responsibility to limit usage, too (1)

G4from128k (686170) | about 9 years ago | (#13854692)

Flu viruses can evolve resistance to antivirals. Already, some flu drugs have less effectiveness [] because of presumed overuse in Asia. If Tamiflu becomes as cheap as the other flu medications it will be dispensed too much. It might even encourage China to mass produce the drug for use in livestock - a factor that may have contributed to increased viral resistance to older antivirals.

The moral dimensions to mass produced antibiotics and antivirals are more complex than just the issue of patents.

International Precedent (1)

strelkovaya (924946) | about 9 years ago | (#13854693)

Both Brazil and South Africa breach (anti)AIDS drug patents to get enough of the stuff without bankrupting their government coffers. We all know it takes a lot of money and time to develop drugs, but often once they are discovered they can be replicated easily and cheaply.

Further research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854696)

And in completely unrelated news Roche has decided to stop all research related to the bird flue virus.

Also, Slashdotters still can't seem to be able to see more than 2 inches in front of their faces. Must be all that starting at the computer screens that is the cause of this massive epidemic of myopia.

I Agree, but... (1, Redundant)

TheBrutalTruth (890948) | about 9 years ago | (#13854697)

Is another Taiwanese company making and profiting form the drug?? I firmly believe that patents should not get in the way of human rights, emergencies, etc. - however, if another company (or Government for that matter) profits from sale - Why have patents?

Re:I Agree, but... (1)

nz_mincemeat (192600) | about 9 years ago | (#13854729)

Methinks the stockpile is not for sale... TFA states that:

"The government has said it will not market the drug commercially."


"A generic version of the drug produced by the island's National Health Institute is said to be 99% akin to the Tamiflu produced by Roche."

*ulp* wait a minute, RTFA and /. ? I apologise for the fallacy of my logic.

Re:I Agree, but... (1)

TheBrutalTruth (890948) | about 9 years ago | (#13854755)

I did read TFA. That has nothing to do with the question.

Rather, once produced - what STOPS the sale of said drug?

When did Governments get so suddenly benign?

Basic Principle Of Government (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | about 9 years ago | (#13854701)

The most fundamental purpose of a government is to manage the country for the benefit of the people.

The Taiwan government is 100% right. It is doings its JOB! It is, more or less, legally obliged to provide these drugs in the event of an outbreak, and by extention is obliged to stockpile them in the run up.

Roche is simply trying to make a profit some might say. Well, in this case, Roche's profit motive is in direct conflict with the safety of every citizen in Taiwan. This isn't even a hard call.

This story brings to mind the recent decision to allow the military indistrial complex to ignore a patent, in the interests of national security.

I think Roche would probably keep quiet (1)

nz_mincemeat (192600) | about 9 years ago | (#13854705)

...due to possible US influence. However if it is the PRC that is doing this instead I would be expecting a swift but tactful diplomatic response.

On a tangent here, but hasn't Brazil been manufacturing some pharmaceuticals for quite some time now without the corresponding approval from patent holders?

The U.S.A. did it before for an emergency (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 9 years ago | (#13854706)

Not being in Taiwan, this makes me wonder how bad the situation would have to be for some of the other governments to follow a path of violating patent and copyright laws for the benefit of the general population. Are there precedents, procedures for doing so?"

It's not quite the same thing but close enough (emergency situations), but I heard that the US Government voided many radio patents beginning/during WW2 in the interest of advancing that technology ASAP.

I'd love to find a direct link to info, but all I can find know is this website alluding to that: []

Better that than... (1)

Sebby (238625) | about 9 years ago | (#13854708)

I prefer they violate patents and fight that flu aggressively now, instead of it eventually getting here and having to deal with it here, at which point it will be harder to control, and we'd probably end up having to do the same thing anyways.

Several Countries Do this for AIDS drugs already.. (1)

Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) | about 9 years ago | (#13854714)

India and Brasil come to mind. There isn't a whole lot the drug company can do about it. That is the soft underbelly of patent law. If a foreign government chooses to allow a domestic company to ignore the patent for distribution within that country, there isn't a whole lot the patent holder can do about it.

Re:Several Countries Do this for AIDS drugs alread (1)

Mateito (746185) | about 9 years ago | (#13854773)

Don't forget that during the Anthrax-in-the-Post scare, that most evil of all nations, Canada, declared that they would violate patents to produce vaccines for their citizens.

Its a difficult balance. On one hand, it does take a lot of research to develop novel drugs. However, a lot of drug development is based on "change every possible side-chain on a drug we know works and patent it in case its good for something".

I don't see how to fix this. Ideally, a company could patent the active part of a drug molecule so that it wouldn't need to patent every possible variation to protect itself from rivals, but given that its not actually know why certain drugs work, that would be impossible.

Maybe a change to patent law stating that the government could repossess a patent in moments of national crisis would be sensible. If they can take your house, your care and even your kids (conscription), why not patent rights?

US Government has... (1)

desNotes (900643) | about 9 years ago | (#13854720)

already notified Roche that if they cannot produict enough of the bird flu vaccine in the next few weeks, the government will also break the patent and allow generics to be produced by competitors. I don't have a link (picked it up on NPR).

not a new idea (1)

Chris Snook (872473) | about 9 years ago | (#13854722)

Several nations already do this with AIDS drugs, and much like Taiwan, only after negotiations fail. This is a perfect example of the perversion of the modern US patent system. The patent system is designed to encourage innovators to share as much knowledge as possible for the benefit of everyone. If patent holders want to play chicken with sovereign nations over matters of global security, they can expect this kind of thing to happen.

The Wright Brothers got their patents nilled ... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854723)

The Wright Brothers got their patents on Airplanes revoked by the US during/before the first worldwar. And never got them back. So, yes such a thing happened before.

It is the same with some countries and drugs against Aids. South Africa I think, has officially violated patents to allow cheaper mass production of drugs to help people with Aids.

So why should anyone develop . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854726)

. . . new drugs to treat the flu? This is why pharmaceutical companys don't want to invest in drugs like Tamiflu. As soon as they try to recoup their investment people say they are greedy and call for the patent to be forfited. Well, there is no free lunch. Policies like this may achieve a short term goal, but in the long run there will be fewer treatments for the worlds most deadly illnesses.

No Laws Being Violated (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 9 years ago | (#13854740)

...And probably no treaties either. The treaties have explicit provision for compulsory licensing.

Short-sighted (1)

mc6809e (214243) | about 9 years ago | (#13854745)

And the lesson for Roche? Get out of the business of inventing life-saving vaccines.

Just how many companies do we need wasting their time on such things?

"Eminent Domain" for "Intellectual Property" (5, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | about 9 years ago | (#13854750)

Personally, I think that governments (including the USA) should be more ready to stake logical claims for the betterment of their populations over the betterment of the "owners" of intellectual property. This includes copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets.

Now, the US Constitution guarantees reasonable compensation for seized property. This doesn't have to be cash. It can be some other equitable consideration.

For example, if Disney would surrender almost all of their old television cartoons and theatrical movies into the public domain (where they should have lapsed years ago), the US could reciprocate and give a *permanent* protection for a few of their most prized revenue source characters: Mickey Mouse and Disney's Ariel (the Little Mermaid). The population could make whatever artistic mashup they wanted from the footage, but they couldn't claim the Mouse as theirs or claim the Mouse speaks for them. If I understand, this is somewhat like the protection Britain has given Peter Pan: it's a special cultural treasure and is handled different from other properties.

Another example is for pharmaceuticals: break an effective AIDS drug patent, and we'll let you keep a certain lifestyle drug like Viagra for a longer period.

Unfortunately, Disney and Pfizer have bought enough Senators to choke the Panama Canal, and so the trade in all of their products will be protected nearly forever anyway, even without surrendering the cultural feedstock and the life-saving inventions to society as a whole.

Re:"Eminent Domain" for "Intellectual Property" (2, Funny)

headLITE (171240) | about 9 years ago | (#13854792)

Unfortunately, Disney and Pfizer have bought enough Senators to choke the Panama Canal

That is not the worst suggestion concerning what to do with some Senators I have heard by far.

heck, even the u.s. of. a. constantly violates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854763)

international laws and treaties, humanrights and military procedures for wartimes and so forth.

they humiliate captives, publically show prisoners of war, torture and do worse things not only in guantanamo bay and abu-ghureib and many other places on this planet.

who does america give a shit about when it comes to their interests. they want to own this whole planet, no matter what. they are the actual rulers of this planet.

so how come ppl start wondering if other governments also give shit about international treaties like patent laws, nuclear weapons/power treaties and so forth.

this whole planet is going mad, and everybody is just fingerpointing at each other, rather than starting to do some good for this planet and mandkind and start to do as you want to be done unto yourself.....

Re:heck, even the u.s. of. a. constantly violates. (1)

master_meio (834537) | about 9 years ago | (#13854796)

Oh my god... is this your homework for ESL class?

Oh the irony... (1)

Anita Coney (648748) | about 9 years ago | (#13854764)

... isn't the point of intellectual property supposed to be the public's interest?!

Way to go... (1)

Decameron81 (628548) | about 9 years ago | (#13854791)

Way to go Roche. It seems like you've gotten a lot of bad pubblicity. It's exactly in times like this that companies should forget for a second their greed, help for the sake of doing so, and get an image boost in the eyes of a big part of the world.

Brazil did it (2, Interesting)

Tuego (924949) | about 9 years ago | (#13854795)

Brazil broke the patents for some anti-aids drugs. First, we negotiate the prices with the labs, they refuse to provide an acceptable price, then the patent were broke for the sake of thousands of people. "Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, a nation can break drug patents if there is a national emergency." At the time, we receive nice comments from leaders from all over the world, including Tony Blair in an MTV program. read more on: [] aids.drug/ [] This is my first comment, and sorry about the poor english.

Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13854799)

Not being in Taiwan, this makes me wonder how bad the situation would have to be for some of the other governments to follow a path of violating patent and copyright laws for the benefit of the general population. Are there precedents, procedures for doing so?"

Yes. Please place a briefcase containing unmarked bills under the third park bench at precisely 6:00 pm. My "associates" will meet with you there.

Patents are a ballancing act (1)

blibbler (15793) | about 9 years ago | (#13854809)

Many jurisdictions refuse to acknowledge patents on certain medical procedures. For example, if a person devised a new procedure for conducting surgery that reduced the chance of death, then they could not patent, and demand royalties when it is performed (or more extremely prevent the procedure being used if a person could not afford to pay.

Patents involve a careful ballancing act. On the one hand, a person or company invested a certain level of creative, and financial resources expanding the the public knowledge. In exchange for sharing this knowledge, they are granted a monopoly for a short period of time.

Pharmaceutical companies invest billions of dollars creating new drugs, but they then inevitably price the drugs outside the range of many people (especially in third world countires.) After 20 years, the patent expires, and everyone else is entitled to manufacture the drug. Of course with the circumstances around the birdflu scare, it is irrelevant that the drug will be widely availale and cheap in 2 decades, as potentially hundreds millions of people will die in the intervening time.

price gouging (1)

fermion (181285) | about 9 years ago | (#13854812)

As we learned in the US over the past few months, there are a few people who will take advantage of those in trouble. These people will take advantage of the situation to extort money from victims, steal money from government, and simple run rampant.

Now many racist people blamed these problems on the fact that persons were not American, or not white, or not whatever. This, of course, is hogwash. Criminals and evil come in all colors, as is shown in this case. Tamiflu may or may not work in all cases. There has already been one Tamiflu resistant case. So we have no idea wheather Tamiflu will do any good. OTOH, the world is scared, and looking for any solution, and Roche can ask for whatever it wishes, if they choose to do so.

Now I am not one to say that drug prices are too high. Companies should be compensated at whatever the market will bear, when the market is in a normal state. The Tamiflu market is not normal. We are buying something that might never be used, and likely won't be used in the process of normal market visits, but must be stockpiled to protect national interests.

So what is Roche going to do. Protect the fiction that Tamiflu can only be manufacted by roche, even though Asia has shown technical expertise at manufacturing all sort of medical products. If they do so, will they build a plant that will manfufacture the drug for government use, and give discounts for the mass order. Or will they do what they are doing now, which is taking advantage of desperate situation. Many would say this is exactly what we expect from an industry that allows thousands to die of AIDS in an effort to protect patent rights.

At some point we must demand that the massive government subsidize pay for something. Roche can profit greatly from this scare, and win a great deal of public support, if it plays the hand correctly. They are likly to recieve a billion+ dollar order from the US alone. Cutting the price to cover only fixed costs might be indicated.

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