Patents Drive Innovation

Mike Waring

AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

Earlier this year, the World Trade Organization (WTO) voted to require patents for COVID vaccines be waived on the theory that doing so would vastly increase the supply of vaccines worldwide. 
This so-called TRIPS waiver came despite numerous pleadings from U.S. organizations – including AUTM – that doing so could threaten the viability of future efforts to develop vaccines for pandemics yet to come.  The fact remains that drug companies must see a return on their investment and the fear of losing patent rights could drive many from backing future healthcare technologies.
Now the WTO is looking to decide by year’s end if it will extend that decision to also encompass treatments and diagnostics for COVID.  There is already talk at WTO that clean energy technologies also ought to waive their IP rights, to provide a larger supply of discoveries to a world facing global climate change.
Let us be clear—clean energy is a worldwide need, but the way to spur development of new energy sources is not by giving away the patents for the ones we already have. Instead we should be making it easier for scientists and inventors to come up with even greater discoveries.  That only happens when we incentivize the innovation pipeline by allowing IP rights to help recompense those whose ideas become reality.
Too often, government leaders look to the free market for ideas, but then attempt to take the fruits of that labor without understanding that IP is crucial to the success of a free market.  Too many lawmakers want the benefits of new medicines, high-tech devices and improved national security without making sure those who create these valuable inventions can recoup their upfront development costs. 
The success of the Bayh-Dole Act is the recognition that government cannot develop these discoveries on its own.  By giving IP title to universities and their inventors, Bayh-Dole unleashed American innovation – or what President Abraham Lincoln called adding the “fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
AUTM continues to work with our higher education association partners to make the case every day in Washington that restricting IP rights is a fool’s errand.  Our messaging continues to be that patents drive innovation – and that more patenting leads to more innovation.  We simply must not stifle the patent system.  Otherwise, the next time a pandemic lurks or an adversary develops a new weapon, we will be unprepared to deal with it.