My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

pharmaceutical financing

So I was reading this debate from a few years ago about pharmaceutical patents and financing, and in it, Dean Baker lays out his plan for an alternative to pharmaceutical research financing that doesn’t involve a patent/profit motive. Here’s a brutally edited snippet to get the jist of his idea across:

.. what I propose is to have a publicly funded system. … Can we have publicly funded research? Does that seem far-fetched? Well, it better not seem farfetched because we already [do], about thirty billion a year, in publicly funded research primary through the National Research Institutes of Health. … what would I propose, you know, as an alternative, I would say, lets roughly double it, we ll get to the numbers in a minute, but instead of having NIH just do basis research, let s bring the products through to development.

So, there’s that. I’m not entirely swayed, but I am still plowing through the transcript. Richard Kingham was Baker’s primary opposition, and he makes some good points about why Baker’s idea might be flawed, but Kingham said something that really struck me as odd, which is going to make it very hard for me to take him seriously in the rest of this debate. Baker asserts that patent litigation and development of copycat drugs are overly-costly, and in responding, Kingham says this:

But in any event, unless the Federal Government were a complete sap, it would have to defend its patents too, against the private sector of the United States and against foreigners. You can t rid of the defense of patents, there will always be people who want to challenge them or want to infringe them and it will be necessary to spend money to deal with them. And by the way, nobody arrests infringes. You have to sue them and get injunctive or other relief against them. There s no government agency that goes out and arrests patent infringes.

Am I misreading, or is he entirely missing the point of Baker’s idea that there wouldn’t be any patents to defend? Publication and dissemination of the results of government-sponsored research was the cornerstone of Baker’s case. I find it amusing that Kingham actually suggests that the government would have to be a “complete sap” to dare to pursue the health of its citizens instead of a monopoly profit mechanism.