Treatment of pandemic disease Z requires drug that was discovered, after costly research efforts, by pharmaceutical corporation X, which now has a patent over the intellectual property. As a general rule, the drug cannot be manufactured without observing prevailing laws on intellectual property, and these normally require payment of a patent royalty to X, the rate typically being set by X.
X the corporation is, of course, ultimately a group of individuals: shareholders, directors, employees.
Individuals in developing countries, or their governments, cannot afford the patent fees set by X.
For every increment of leniency given against the basic patent provisions, the income of X — and hence the income of the individuals behind X — declines accordingly.
Pharmaceutical corporation X voluntarily agrees to soften, or waive, its patent rights in certain cases, e.g. by reducing for a specified period the patent royalty for manufacture in, or export to, specified countries.
(Cost of charitable act is borne by individuals behind X — voluntarily.)
Another acceptable solution:
Western governments, with the support of an overwhelming majority of their citizenry, subsidise the cost of the drug to developing countries.
(Cost of charitable act is borne by individual taxpayers — voluntarily, in the vast majority of cases.)
Possibly acceptable solution:
Western governments, with the support of a simple majority of their citizenry (explicit or implied), subsidise the cost of the drug to developing countries.
(Cost of charitable act is borne by individual taxpayers — in a large proportion of cases, involuntarily.)
The global political elite endorses the breach of patent laws.
* Short-term costs of charitable act: borne by individuals behind X — involuntarily.
* Long-term costs #1 of charitable act: borne by individuals behind all other pharmaceutical corporations (given that the breach of legal principles softens global respect for drug patent laws) — involuntarily.
* Long-term costs #2 of charitable act: borne by all other individuals globally who benefit from patent and copyright laws, whether directly or indirectly (given that the breach of legal principles softens global respect for intellectual property rights generally) — involuntarily.
* Long-term costs #3 of charitable act: borne by all individuals, living or not yet born, who might benefit in the future from new drugs developed by corporations (given that the weakening of patent rules reduces the incentives for private pharmaceutical research) — involuntarily.
• A distinction should be made between a developing country choosing unilaterally to ignore patent law as an act of emergency, with drug companies having the option of not pursuing the breach (under pressure from world opinion); and the global political elite actively legitimising such breaches in general and in perpetuity.
• Spokesperson for Médecins Sans Frontières:
Gilead has no business profiteering from this pandemic and must commit to not enforce or claim its patents and other exclusive rights.Change the emotive word "profiteering" to "making a profit" and you get, au contraire, precisely what is a pharmaceutical company's business: making profits from selling the drugs it has developed for the purpose of treating diseases. It is reasonable that those who risk their money on R&D, with an uncertain return, should expect to make an appropriate profit on their investment if the risk pays off.
MSF seem to be implying that there comes a point in the seriousness or prevalence of a disease when that should cease to apply.
• It's easy to be generous with resources that don't belong to you, without their owners' consent, but does this deserve to be described as "caring"?
• If "profiteering" is taken to mean, more generally, exploiting a bad situation in order to to advance one's own agenda, then there are other possible offenders than those in the business sector.