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Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

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Respect patent laws despite new threat

A government urging citizens to continue with life normally must set a similar example. Instead, the Canadian government is catering to mass hysteria and lawlessness, and some in the United States propose following suit.

Canada sent shockwaves through the pharmaceutical industry Thursday when it overrode Bayer AG’s patent on the anthrax vaccine Cipro, claiming their million-tablet order of a generic form of Cipro could not be supplied by Bayer alone. New York Democrat Charles Schumer and others in Washington argue this concept’s validity, but civil liberties infringements and implications for future drug research make a strong case to the contrary.

The U.S. government condemns martial law as a reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks and has pushed citizens to resume their normal lives. Yet breaking the patent law flatly contradicts this. It confiscates Bayer’s property, using the anthrax scare as an excuse to break laws. Part of the skyrocketing demand also comes from civilians who are not at risk for anthrax but stockpile Cipro anyway. Government patent removal would cater to the mass hysteria sweeping the country.

Breaking this law might also be unnecessary, as Bayer claims it is capable of handling the demand. In fact, last month the company tripled its Cipro shipments. Additionally, federal guidelines now require only five days of Cipro – 10 tablets in all – and follow-up treatment with other medication, which is substantially less than the previous 120-tablet dosage. There are also alternatives to quell the demand without undermining patents. Bayer can license other companies to produce the drug if need outstrips its production capabilities.

Challenging patents will also hinder research and development of biological warfare vaccines, just as the need for such vaccines reaches its peak. Evidence of rogue nations altering biological agents to increase their resistance to existing vaccines makes further research pivotal. Removing the patent security from drug companies makes for a potentially catastrophic move.

Challenging patent sanctity was avoided even during the height of the AIDS crisis, and the vast and continuing research and development in that field is evidence enough that patent removal is detrimental to the industry. Many argue that patents increase costs and make drugs less available, but government deals usually demand lower than market prices anyway.

Implications of undermining patent law go beyond this one situation. Any future rights removal could be given the same legal justification, for instance, if removal of property becomes an accepted governmental action. If the United States does this, other countries might follow its lead, crippling drug companies. It is absolutely necessary that, to maximize vaccine production efficiency, the government cooperate with rather than battle pharmaceutical companies.

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