Online piracy

A smoke screen being laid by a military vehicle

Image via Wikipedia

I just saw an an ad on TV asking for support for a bill in Congress to stop online piracy and save American jobs. Sounds like a good idea, but beware of any claims to save American jobs. It is frequently a smoke-screen for something else, and I believe that is true in this case. The bill, if passed into law, will give the government authority to shut down web sites that express opinions that are not popular, such as Wikileaks for example. Please read the fine print before you give your support.

Intellectual property

Intellectual Property symbol

Image via Wikipedia

Recently a physician friend and I were discussing intellectual property rights, patents specifically. The discussion quickly became somewhat heated as it turned to drug prices and pharmaceutical company profits. While expressing dismay at the cost of some drugs, he justified drug pricing with the cost of their development and the long lead times before FDA approval. One argument that was new to me was his contention that US consumers subsidize low drug prices in third world countries. Is this true and if it is true, is it right?

In general, I support intellectual property rights. The creator of intellectual property deserves reward for his/her labor. China copies everything. Production sharing agreements with Chinese firms are a license for them to steal Western ideas. Bill Gates and Microsoft became very wealthy because of the Windows operating system, a virtual monopoly on computer operating systems. Did Gates and Microsoft overcharge? Yes, I think so.

However, even today there are alternatives to Windows: Apple and Linux with Android making a fast start. It is still possible to avoid Windows by doing without a computer; some people do. Drugs are a different situation altogether. Your life and my life are not at stake with Windows. Our lives may be at stake if a pharmaceutical’s intellectual property rights allow the price of a drug to be set so high that our insurer will not cover its cost.

The cut-off point for healthcare insurance coverage is considered to be the cost of kidney dialysis, which is currently $60,000 per year. Recently in the news, a new drug was reported that does not cure a cancer, extends a good quality of life by 2-4 years, but at a present cost of $115,000 per year. Who can afford that and how many insurers will pay? Very few I am afraid.

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