Bayer's Headache is ours too

By Wayne Dunn, posted October 23, 2001

Following Canada's example, the U.S. government may similarly wave the "public good" wand to magically override Bayer's patent for its anthrax-fighting creation, Cipro.

What an injustice.

It is only because of Bayer's successful investment of time, money and mind-power that such a life-saving antibody as Cipro exists in the first place. Instead of assailing Bayer, politicians should be praising it.

Few government actions are more detrimental to innovation - or are more immoral - than violating someone's patent. The legal protection of one's unique ideas and creations, of one's intellectual and material property, is the linchpin of freedom and a cornerstone in the capitalist system of investment and productivity

To illustrate, imagine if you developed a product that people desired to purchase. If the government then demanded you share your patent or copyright with your neighbors so they too could manufacture your creation, what incentive would you have to bring your next new idea to market? If you got burned like that once or twice, you would conclude that inventing is for chumps; and so would other current and potential inventors. Easier to wait for someone else to shoulder the burden of innovation and then appeal to the government for permission to snatch his design - in the name of "the public good," of course. Why bother sinking time and money into research and development only to have a competitor cash-in on your hard work?

Well, will Bayer be quite so eager to develop the next form of drugs we may need to stave off future bio-attacks? And in light of what's happening to Bayer, will other pharmaceutical companies struggle to produce tomorrow's vaccines knowing that tomorrow's batch of politicians may similarly undercut their patents? Will venture capitalists and smaller investors risk their money on cutting-edge research if they suspect the resultant product may end up listed in the government's "public good" catalogue?

The "public good" - if that catch phrase contains even a shred of meaning - is not enhanced by sacrificing the interests of some individual members of the public to the supposed interest of others. For what is the public but a number of individuals, each of whom has rights which governments properly exist only to protect? And what is a corporation but a group of rights-possessing individuals (who are also members of "the public") who freely associate for the purpose of making money by producing and selling what other individuals want or need to buy?

Just as we correctly view the attacks on Sept. 11 as assaults not simply on the lives of the immediate victims and their families, but on all our lives, so too should raids on any individual's property be rightly recognized as threatening everyone's rights.

Now consider each of the players and the implications of their actions. Bayer regarded anthrax as a disease worth curing, so it exercised its freedom by creating and selling an antibody; that's capitalism. The terrorists regard our free minds and free markets as diseases worth "curing," so they exercise their fanaticism by destroying creations and spreading death; that's nihilism. The governments of Canada and the U.S. regard Bayer's Cipro ownership as a disease worth curing, so they exercise their power by undermining property rights and punishing achievement; that's collectivism. What's ironic is that the very government officials charged with defending our lives have something in common with the terrorists bent on ending them: an aversion to capitalism and thus to freedom.

Muslims respectful of human life voice outrage when fanatics murder in the name of the "Islamic good." Let those respectful of individual rights likewise voice outrage when governments loot in the name of the "public good."

Perhaps the best thing to do is take two Bayers and call your Congressman in the morning.

 © COPYRIGHT 2001 by Wayne Dunn


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