Debunking fascism of intellectual property – Part 3 (Social argument)

So we have come to last part of series about intellectual property. In my previous two posts, I have talked about IP considered from moral perspective.

From moral perspective, I considered charging fee for distribution of property you have bought as unethical and furthermore, idea is not something that has real value. So, charging real amount of money for something that does not have real value is morally unacceptable since money is supposed to represent real and tangible effort done by workers.

After that, you have economical perspective in which world without IP has much better innovation compared to the products protected by patents. I have given an example from software industry in which open-source software can still survive and even exceed market share for proprietary software.

In this post, I will take a look for patent considered from social perspective. That is, whether the benefit to society with patent is much better than without patent. My indicator will be perception of people in society themselves (survey) about inventions that benefits them most and then we will count how much percentage for those inventions are related to patent. Furthermore, I prefer to take a look at an industry where the benefits are essential and indispensable, namely medicine (Pharmaceutical industry).

Let’s take a look at pharmaceutical industry. It was estimated by research that average fixed cost to bring new drug to market as high as $800 millions in year 2000. However, once the medicine is released, the production and distribution process (packaging and shipping) takes same cost regardless how many medicines have been produced.

The large cost for researching and inventing new drugs is one of the reason why pharmaceutical industry is one of favorite example for those who support intellectual property. The argument is that although the drugs, even for deadly diseases, may be cheap to produce but their invention did cost a substantial amount of money that drug companies should recover. If they do not sell at high enough price, they will make losses and stop doing research to fight diseases.

Now, I need to admit that my education background is not in pharmaceutical industry. Hence, in order to find out about whether people think patents contribute to this industry, I rely on third-party researches. Particularly, there are two researches in which survey were done to people who are working in medical field, asking their opinion about list of biggest inventions in modern medical history.

One of those researches has been carried out by British Medical Journal, one of most distinguished publication in medical science. The editors of that magazine asked readers a fundamental question: which medical and pharmaceutical discoveries are truly fundamental and where do they come from? The special issue was published on 2007 in which this editorial piece appears and listed top fifteen medical milestones and available at

Here are top 15 medical inventions without any particular order: penicilin, X-rays, tissue culture, ether (anesthetic), chlorpromazine, public sanitation, germ theory, evidence-based medicine, vaccines, the Pill, computers, oral rehydration therapy, DNA structure, monoclonal antibody technology and smoking health risk.

So here is a question: How many entries in this list were patented or due to some previous patent or were obtained during a research project motivated by the desire to obtain a patent?

No joke. Just two: Chlorpromazine and the Pill.

Another research which favored patents slightly more than previous one is by website of Chemical and Engineering News magazine where a “List of Top Pharmaceuticals” divided by therapeutic categories can be found (For access, click here). These were the pharmaceutical products selling the most worldwide at the time of the survey (2005) and there are forty-six of them.

Two researchers by the name of Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine from Washington University in St. Louis studied this list of forty-six medicines and counted how many of these medicines do not owe their existence to patents in any meaningful sense, either because they were never patented and those inventing them did not have patent as their aim or because they were discovered by companies operating in countries where drugs could not be patented at all.

In total, 20 of the 46 top-selling drugs are nothing much to do with patent. The list is as follows: Aspirin, AZT, cyclosporine, digoxin, ether, flouride, insulin, isoniazid, medical marijuana, methadone, morphine, oxytocin, penicilin, phenobarbital, prontosil, quinine, Ritalin (methylphenidate), Salvarsan, vaccines, vitamins). The remaining 26 products somehow owe their existence to the availability of drug patents (Allegra, Botox, cisplatin, Crixivan, erythropoietin, fentanyl, Fosamax, hydrocortisone, ivermectin, L-dopa, Librium, lovastatin, oral contraceptives, Premarin, Prozac, Rituxan, salbutamol, Tagamet, Taxol, thalidomide, Thorazin, thyroxine, Viagra, Vioxx, RU-486, 6-mercaptopurine). However, four of them were discovered by chance and then patented (cisplatin, Librium, Taxol, Thorazin), two of them (cisplatin and Taxol) were discovered in public university labs before patent law in respective countries were even conceived. The bottom line is that only half of top-selling drugs were produced under patent.

We can see from those two researches that even most major invention according to society itself, in pharmaceutical industry owes their existence even in the absence of patent system. Hence, there are reasonable amount of evidence that even if patent system is abolished, the effect will not as catastrophic as those IP-proponents want you to think.

In addition to those research, there is a more fundamental social reasons why intellectual property policy needs to be abolished: It only benefits a group of elitists, who can use government force and deny society their deserved access to all patented products even to the basic needs such as medicine. The policy let those elitists to prioritize profit on the top even people’s life.

In my opinion, the purpose of the government is supposed to prevent law of the jungle (survival of the fittest) to happen in the society. However, by making unjust law which depraved right of ordinary and poor people and colluding with elitist groups in society so that they become richer and richer by unjust means, it is the treachery to the people.

So, I have completed all three arguments against intellectual property from moral, economic, and social perspective. I hope that this series can provoke your thought not to just accept hat has been told to us by our educators and/or employers (They are beneficiaries so of course they will be pro-IP). As for final decision whether you want to support IP or not, it is your own choice. However, I hope by my argument I can at least convince you that it is not a trivial issue.

About edwinlt

I am currently Indonesian expatriate working in Singapore. I am currently working as security researcher in National University of Singapore. I write this blog to share to readers about my life principle on various aspects, like religion, politics, business, relationship, and technology. I am interested in alternative worldviews because I found that many things taught to us by establishments are not true and harmful. My dream is to become self-sufficient in food and energy. Hopefully, someday I can have my own fruit garden and my own power plant and able to sell my electricity to power company. I hope readers enjoy my blog.
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