A short blogpost on what hopefully will be the beginning of the end of patents.
History keeps repeating itself, yet improving at the same time, I hope. This morning I woke up with a BIG SMILE, watching the eight o’clock morning news. The NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Organization) had an item on the arguments of chairman Büller of the Erasmus Medical Centre, who states that we need to get rid of the current patent-system in place in the medical industry. He’d like to see a European public consortium produce expensive medication, potentially lowering the costs dramatically. The proposed businessmodel seams feasible at least and could result in a huge decrease in annual medical-costs at best. A few weeks ago the Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre already urged minister Schippers to lower the influence of the industry on pharmaceutical costs.
I think they are totally right and chairman Büller’s views reminded me of Jonas Salk, inventor of the Polio vaccine in 1955.
Wikipedia: Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the post-war United States. Annual epidemics were increasingly devastating. Historian William O’Neill: “Citizens of urban areas were to be terrified every summer when this frightful visitor returned.” According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was the world’s most recognized victim of the disease and founded the organization that would fund the development of a vaccine. In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1948, he undertook a project funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to determine the number of different types of polio virus. Salk saw an opportunity to extend this project towards developing a vaccine against polio, and, together with the skilled research team he assembled, devoted himself to this work for the next seven years. The field trial set up to test the Salk vaccine was, according to O’Neill, “the most elaborate program of its kind in history (editorial note: meaning this was a very, very expensive vaccine to develop), involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers.” Over 1,800,000 school children took part in the trial. When news of the vaccine’s success was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a “miracle worker”, and the day “almost became a national holiday.” His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in a televised interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk’s famous reply was: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”.
Polio vaccines are credited with reducing the global number of polio cases per year from many hundreds of thousands, to today under a thousand worldwide.[source] Enhanced vaccination efforts led by Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF should result in global eradication of the disease soon. [source][another source]
This enormous decrease would not have been possible should the vaccine have been patented and I really hope these are the first steps towards a dismantling of the current patent- and copyright systems in place. This summer we’ve seen the ugly side of the current patent system everywhere, not only in entertainment and pharma, but also in technology, with a frantic legal-war going on between Apple and Samsung everywhere on the planet.
How are consumers getting the benefit of this?
They don’t. Companies are wasting their efforts on legal-stuff instead of proper innovation. Such a debate (or worldwide lawsuit) over yesterdays’ ideas is a total waste of time and money if you ask me. Consumers should decide which company has the best solution, not courts, nor lawyers nor a jury.
Knowledge -especially the life-saving kind-, should be in the hands of all people, not just a few shareholders! In just a few weeks we’ve got national elections coming up in The Netherlands and I’m pretty curious about the views of our political parties on this matter. Guess I should do some research this afternoon and ask around on Twitter.
Please share this post if you like knowledge-sharing and you’d like everyones’ healthcare costs to drop dramatically!