One of the first acts of Congress in the young U.S.A. was to pass the Patent Act of 1790, which was quickly signed into law by President George Washington on April 10, 1790. It was universally understood that to make progress in the industrial revolution, a patent system was necessary to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. On July 31, 1790, President Washington as the nation’s patent officer signed the first U.S. patent to Samuel Hopkins for an improvement in “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” Signaling the importance of patents, Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretory of State Thomas Jefferson co-signed the document. There can be no doubt that the founding fathers felt strongly that protecting intellectual property via patents was crucial in promoting improvements in this new nation. The only President to hold a patent was Abraham Lincoln. On May 22, 1849, he was granted patent number 6469 for a device to lift boats over shallow waters.
Fast forward 230 years since Washington to 2020 during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic to a raging debate at the World Trade Organization (WTO), part of the United Nations. Many nations support India and South Africa, encouraged by China, to abrogate respect for intellectual property and patents, this under the guise of supplying antiviral vaccines to poorer underdeveloped nations. The United States, Great Britain and the European Union are against it. They see this drive to abrogate patent rights by these nations as nothing more than an attempt to obtain critical process information at no cost to enhance their production of many drugs.
This push by India, South Africa and China under the pretext of helping poor nations is disingenuous. As with the AIDS crisis, drug companies’ prices in developing countries were a fraction of their western counter parts. The same has been promised with anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. As an example, AstraZeneca has promised not to make any profit on the vaccine while the pandemic lasts. The WTO already has rules in place that the least developed countries are exempt from many patent obligations. There also exists “COVAX”, A WTO subsidary to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to enhance distribution to the underprivileged. Thus, there is NO need to tamper with the present patent system.
Protection of the patent system is vital for man’s progress. It is astonishing that the WTO has not contested China’s stealing of intellectual property for years. The present attempt by the WTO is another example of a United Nation’s agency doing the bidding of China and a few other nations against the interests of the West and the rest of mankind.