Intellectual Property Issues – When Healing Becomes a Crime

Intellectual property (IP) refers to patents, copyrights, and trademarks. IP rights make commodities of knowledge goods so that they can be bought, sold, withheld, utilized, or licensed. Once an arcane and technical topic, intellectual property has become an important focus of contesting in international relations and a subject of heated scholarly discourse.    Technological change, including the digital revolution, economic globalization, and the emergence of a knowledge- and services-based economy, has led rights holders to press for greater regulatory harmonization and higher standards of protection worldwide.  

While the majority of people regard intellectual property as beneficial for protection of inventors and necessary for promoting further research, Peter Drahos  in his book “Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy” argues that patents are being used to lock up vital information in elite ownership.   “Information feudalism is a regime of property rights that is not economically efficient, and does not get the balance right between rewarding innovation and diffusing it. Like feudalism, it rewards guilds instead of inventive individual citizens. It makes democratic citizens trespassers on knowledge that should be the common heritage of humankind, their educational birthright. Ironically, information feudalism, by dismantling the publicness of knowledge, will eventually rob the knowledge economy of much of its productivity (p. 219).”

Drahos and Braithwaite emphasize that the title Information Feudalism is not intended to be taken at face value by literal-minded readers, and crudely equated with medieval feudalism. Rather, the title serves as a suggestive metaphor. It designates the transfer of knowledge from the intellectual commons to private corporation under the regime of intellectual property.

What are the consequences for the ownership and secreting of important findings in genetic engineering science, biotechnology, cancer / AIDS research etc.?   When watching a video on YouTube “Cancer- The Forbidden Cures”, one might wonder why despite billions of dollars spent on finding cancer cure in the last century, cancer research is still in the same position as it was at the beginning of the 20th century.   It is still the most vicious killer of human race with the only treatment legally approved for cancer in the western world being surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.   While Rene Cassie had proven to cure thousands of cancer patients in the 1940s and 1950s, and the President Kennedy’s personal doctor appealing to the FDA to approve her formula for the nationwide cure, big pharma companies blocked the FDA from passing that regulation.  They are still selling ineffective chemotherapy drugs at as much as $7000 a bottle and making trillions on “curing” cancer patients.

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Even though the treatment under the same name that R. Cassie invented (Essiac) is currently available for sale, it is very doubtful that the formula she used to treat and cure her cancer patients for free is the same formula that they use to make Essiac today. 

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The most tragic part is that the government influenced by giant corporations and the world banks is used to fully regulate education system and medical care.  The conventional cancer treatment therapy (the only treatment legally approved to practice in the US) consisting of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are invasive, often ineffective and in fact carcinogenic! 

Manuel Castells echoes Peter Drahos in stating that true power is in the hands of those who own and control information.   When important research achievements in the areas of agriculture, public health, climate change, energy, space exploration and digital technology are held in the hands of the ruling elite, we as human race are facing “information feudalism” or the state of serfdom and slavery to those who choose to withhold this information from public knowledge and to stall the progress in improving public health and well-being. 

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2 thoughts on “Intellectual Property Issues – When Healing Becomes a Crime”

  1. This was a tough post for me to respond to. I agree with everything you have said, and am not sure that I could put it in any better words. I feel a lot of negative emotions about these topics, and I’m struggling to not go into an all-out rant.

    This week’s focus was quite eye-opening for myself, and it would seem many of our other classmates. I may have heard bits and pieces of this information before, but never altogether in such an enlightening and organized explanation. I’m mostly talking about the intellectual property issues focused on by Drahos and Braithwaite, but also about the problems with pharmaceutical companies and the medical systems that you have expanded upon.

    Unfortunately—and I do not know how many others might feel this way, or if I am somewhat alone—but my frustration with politics and the direction most politicians seem to be heading lately makes me wonder if anything can really be done. There is an effort to work toward the greater good, yes, but so many times, it is only viable if it is backed by incredible sums of money, which make such causes also for the good of the politicians. Money makes the world go round. And in D.C., doubly so.

    In order for the issue of Big Pharma blocking more affordable, more effective treatments using intellectual property laws, to be properly addressed, something incredible will have to happen. Some altruistic money makers will have to organize, to fund the solution. Or the people will need to be so informed as to make an intelligent and enormous grass roots effort to get the bigwigs’ attention. In a fit of irony, I wonder if, with everyone so caught up in treating their own cancer (and many other medical problems), or that of someone they love, will it be too much to ask for them to unite and fight for a better solution?

    This is an incredibly huge issue, but it’s one of many facing the American political system. Perhaps IP laws were the source of the trouble, but the problem has grown far beyond its beginning. It’s time for the international community to come together once again and reevaluate the trade laws and IP restrictions. But will it actually happen? It’s also about time for the U.S. to reevaluate a large portion of its political system… but that’s a whole other ballpark (how American of me to say).

    I have to say I feel a bit pessimistic about the whole thing. These major political issues can feel quite insurmountable, and get me on a soapbox on which I really do not like to stand. But I will try to end on a slightly less miserable note (sort of). Or at least more whimsical. This problem reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book, though not on the same subject:

    “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – The Lorax

  2. In “Information Feudalism,” Drahos and Braithwaite (2002) construct their thesis around intellectual property rights. One focus is pharmaceutical companies that leveraged international trade policies to dominate the global market.

    In unfolding their position, Drahos and Braithwaite provide compelling tales of the sick, the infirm and the poor being unable to afford and/or obtain pharmaceuticals because of monopolistic trade agreements. The stories contain flashes of human suffering on the altar of corporate profits.

    Pharmaceutical executives are far from being girl or boy scouts of capitalism. For example, taking folk-medicine remedies that have been used for centuries and slapping a patent to restrict access, even to the indigenous people who created the remedies in the first place. Regardless of the legality of the patent, that kind of action is egregious. On the other hand, should all medicines belong to humankind? Is every person on the planet entitled to any drug or remedy simply because it is available?

    Or, should the pharmaceutical industry become more like transportation systems? Some highways are open and free to everyone and others are open yet require the payment of a toll for access. In other words, none of the roads are restricted by availability; they are always open. Yet, certain roads, like some medicines, are an extra out-of-pocket expense. Of course, this possibility could develop into a House Frey of the Crossing situation.

    In the HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” House Frey controls access to the bridge that spans a part of the Trident, a major river that connects the southern and northern lands in the five kingdoms. The noble house of Frey has become very wealthy by exacting lucrative tolls to cross the bridge, and its house lords sometimes play both sides in the ongoing war games for the thrones.

    Much like the Frey lords and their generational control of the bridge, at some point, the question about pharmaceuticals comes down to who decides which roads, and medicines, are open and free, and which ones are open but require an additional cost to use. When and under what circumstances should a pharmaceutical company forfeit the exclusivity of its intellectual property on the altar of the public good?

    If Frey lords are making the decision, they are really no different than pharmaceutical executives leveraging their power for financial advantage.

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