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WTO and Property Theft That Aids China

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

It isn’t surprising when nations with little respect for property rights use multilateral bodies to take away someone’s property. It may not be terribly surprising, but certainly disappoints when an American lawmaker helps foreign countries and international organizations to assault private property, primarily of U.S. firms. That’s what Rep. Jan Schakowsky is doing.

Rep. Schakowsky is pressuring President Biden to back the World Trade Organization’s forcing biopharmaceutical innovators to waive the intellectual property on their COVID-19 inventions, including on vaccines, diagnostics and therapies.

At the WTO, India, South Africa and other nations are pushing for a raid on COVID-19 intellectual property. They’re calling for exactly the opposite of what the world needs in order to ensure broad access to these medicines and vaccines.

Its premise claims that property rights in IP pose a barrier to access and affordability. In fact, secure private property rights, including in patents and IP, promote collaboration and future discovery and development.

Anybody who’s tired of the COVID pandemic restrictions, economic disruption, government diktat (ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous), school closures or other impositions for a year now should vigorously oppose this theft of innovators’ COVID-fighting IP.

News flash to antiproperty rights, drug price control advocates: COVID isn’t the last pandemic, and COVID will remain with us, similar to the flu, for some time to come. So be careful what you wish for.

We need continued R&D, funded by revenues from current product sales, to keep new drug investigation going. That feeds the pipeline that will bring forth the next virus’s treatments, diagnostic tests and vaccines.

Simply put, this WTO property expropriation will risk dramatically diminishing the R&D pipeline — putting in jeopardy creating medicines to fight future diseases and viruses.

Patrick Kilbride of the Global Innovation Policy Center explains:

“The timeline for COVID-19 vaccine deployment in 2020 has been nothing short of miraculous – and it would have been impossible absent the decades of research investment it built upon. Additionally, for every 25,000 therapeutic compounds that start in the laboratory, 25 make it to clinical trial, 5 make it to market, and only one recoups the cost invested. Intellectual property protections signal to innovators and investors that shouldering this risk is worth it.”

Further, the proposal at WTO that Rep. Schakowsky favors would weaken key IP obligations secured by the TRIPS trade agreement, which imposes certain respect for IP rights (though some signatory countries adhere more closely to TRIPS requirements than do others).

This radical proposal — an assault on property rights in general and on pharmaceutical innovators’ IP in particular — is all the more troublesome because of its false pretenses, leveraging a global pandemic to advance a longstanding anti-IP agenda.

Expropriation by suspending COVID vaccine patents won’t help poor countries in the short term, and it will seriously harm midterm and long-term progress on curing, treating and preventing COVID and a range of diseases.

The Schakowsky-backed IP theft will damage not only these envious nations whose disrespect for property rights and the rule of law are driving this effort, but everyone worldwide.

Ironically, Rep. Schakowsky and the nations pushing this property-taking scheme are aiding and abetting Communist China. Their scheme would weaken our leading drug innovators, America’s global leadership in biopharmaceutical research and undermine the very innovation system that gave us several remarkably effective vaccines at light-speed.

This advantaging our adversarial competitor comes at the same time President Biden’s CIA pick says he’ll focus on China, our “formidable authoritarian adversary.” And as the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on “Emerging Technologies and Their Impact on National Security,” in which Communist China featured prominently. And when the Republican Study Committee has put forward a significant initiative to counter Chinese economic, technological and espionage aggression.

How short-sighted can someone be? How short-sighted can supposed allies and “neutral” countries be that they’re willing to risk U.S. and much of the world’s economic strength for theft.

This initiative should be rejected. It’s a recipe for a worldwide lose-lose. And it sets a bad precedent of international expropriation of the fruits of innovators’ R&D.

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