WHO Commission on Intellectual Property

Jamie Boyle, at Duke, recently posted a great comment to the discussion forum at the WHO Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health. An excerpt:

When it thinks about innovation and progress in the intellectual property system, the Commission should avoid substituting some universal imagined ideal of Progress for the actual specific version of “progress” towards which our current distribution of entitlements and rights will push us. Many policies that might seem justified by the promotion of large “P” progress seem more questionable if they instead push us towards the specific vision of progress held latently within the pattern of demand established by our current distribution of rights and wealth. Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize winning economist, put it this way: “There are plenty of Pareto optimal societies which would be perfectly horrible places to live.” To put it in more familiar terms — we must have criteria of justice and importance that are outside as well as inside the economic analysis. Right now we have an intellectual property system that measures desirable innovation by the likely future projected ability and willingness to pay for that innovation. It is a remarkable system. I count myself as one of its defenders. But it cannot provide us with our only ideals of progress or innovation, still less our only tools to reach those goals, or we can look forward to a world with wonderful hair loss and impotence medicines, together with clot-busters and cholesterol reducers that truly save lives, but in which the diseases of the global poor remain largely untreated.