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Biden is wrong to let other nations seize US intellectual property

President Biden gives his first joint address to Congress

President Joe Biden has endorsed a global effort to seize the intellectual property rights of American manufacturers.

The decision to back a petition at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to “waive” intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines will do nothing to speed up efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world.

It will set a precedent that government bureaucrats can surrender the intellectual property of American manufacturers and innovators whenever it is deemed politically expedient.  

Moreover, this decision provides an implicit endorsement of the rampant theft of American intellectual property by China.

Upon taking office, Biden promised to hold China accountable. In a speech weeks after the inauguration, Biden vowed to “push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance.” To onlookers that day, Biden was promising to build on former President Trump’s progress in holding China accountable.

By backing the IP waiver, Biden will ignore warnings from the FBI that China was targeting COVID-19 research. China has long pushed to weaken global IP protections, known as TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

Rather than surrendering on IP rights, the Biden administration should reduce protectionist trade restrictions imposed by other nations on COVID-19 products and encourage investments into vaccine manufacturing capacity that mirror Trump’s Operation Warp Speed.

Seizing the trade secrets and IP of American COVID-19 manufacturers will do nothing to help fight the pandemic. Criminal syndicates all over the world have already taken advantage of the crisis to market fake COVID-19 tests, fake personal protective equipment and fake vaccines.  

Biden will make the problem worse. Foreign countries could see a flood of fraudulent vaccines from criminal organizations and from generic manufacturers that struggle to get the formula right. The case of Emergent BioSolutions — a Maryland-based manufacturer that contaminated 15 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine — shows that the manufacturing process is complex and requires extensive quality checks.

Medical innovation does not happen by accident. It requires decades of research and development, billions of dollars in costs, and extensive collaboration between manufacturers, private investors and the world’s smartest scientists. This is only possible due to intellectual property rights and private enterprise that underpin American innovation.

This innovation also supports high-paying manufacturing jobs across the country, something Biden claims to be a champion for. According to TEConomy Partners, LLC, medical innovation directly supports 800,000 jobs and supports four million jobs when indirect and economically induced jobs are taken into account.

By greenlighting foreign efforts to seize American innovation, Biden is threatening these jobs. 

Foreign countries want to piggyback off American innovation while doing nothing to respect the system that led to this innovation.

For instance, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spearheaded an industrial strategy that involves high trade barriers on imports of American vaccines and medical products, and weak or non-existent IP rights.

India refused to pre-order vaccines, waiting until January to order 15 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Today, total orders amount to only 260 million doses, an insignificant number for the nation of 1.3 billion. The problem here is not IP rights, but inefficient, incompetent, or willfully ignorant politicians.

The Biden administration should reverse course and defend American IP rights. Biden’s push to surrender American medical innovation to foreign countries puts him to the left of many left-of-center western countries. French President Emmanuel Macron has raised concern with the IP waiver, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly opposes this effort. This effort requires unanimous consent at the WTO so there is hope that American intellectual property will not be given away.

Foreign leaders like Merkel and Macron may save us despite Biden’s weakness. But that doesn’t absolve Biden of responsibility. Instead of surrendering life saving patent rights, Biden should stand strong and oppose any effort to seize the intellectual property of American manufacturers.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Tags COVID-19 vaccine Donald Trump Emergent Biosolutions Emmanuel Macron foreign relations global ip Intellectual property Joe Biden Medical research operation warp speed Presidency of Joe Biden TRIPS Agreement

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