Patents

This statement by Bayer CEO sums up everything that is wrong with the multinational pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies are singularly focused on profit and so aggressively push for patents and high drug prices. Diseases that don’t promise a profit are neglected, and patients who can’t afford to pay are cut out of the picture. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Read our response:http://ow.ly/sS4Uc

How One Man Tried to Write Women Out of CRISPR, the Biggest Biotech Innovation in Decades

On January 14, Eric S. Lander published an article in the journal Cell celebrating the “heroes” of CRISPR-Cas9, a revolutionary DNA-editing technology that may be the most important genetic engineering development in decades.

“It’s hard to recall a revolution that has swept biology more swiftly than CRISPR,” Lander, a biologist at MIT and Harvard’s Broad Institute, wrote, noting that, although nearly every molecular biologist is familiar with the technology that allows scientists to easily disable or change the function of genes, they are likely unfamiliar with the manpower that went into its discovery.

“Yet, the human stories behind scientific advances can teach us a lot about the miraculous ecosystem that drives biomedical progress,” he continued, “about the roles of serendipity and planning, of pure curiosity and practical application, of hypothesis-free and hypothesis-driven science, of individuals and teams, and of fresh perspectives and deep expertise.”

Indeed.

What Lander failed to recognize in his article—and what many of his colleagues and commenters on the piece have recently condemned him for—is that his institute is currently involved in a billion-dollar patent dispute with the University of California’s Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany, which played a vital role in developing CRISPR-Cas9. Not only did the Cell paper fail to disclose the potential conflict of interest, it significantly minimized the role of Doudna’s lab in advancing the technology.

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The 3 Biggest Myths Blinding Us to the Economic Truth

1. The “job creators” are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. Which is why raising the minimum wage, extending overtime protection, enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit, and reducing middle-class taxes are all necessary.

2. The critical choice is between the “free market” or “government.” Baloney. The free market doesn’t exist in nature. It’s created and enforced by government. And all the ongoing decisions about how it’s organized – what gets patent protection and for how long (the human genome?), who can declare bankruptcy (corporations? homeowners? student debtors?), what contracts are fraudulent (insider trading?) or coercive (predatory loans? mandatory arbitration?), and how much market power is excessive (Comcast and Time Warner?) – depend on government.

3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. When big money from giant corporations and Wall Street inundate our politics, all decisions relating to #1 and #2 above become rigged against average working Americans.

Please take a look at our video, and share.

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Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communication System

Famed Austrian-American actress Hedy Lamarr would had turned 100 earlier this month on November 9. (Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, 11/09/1914 - 1/19/2000.)

Did you know the screen legend was also a patent holder?  Having fled Europe and an unhappy marriage to an Austrian munitions manufacturer, Lamarr relocated to the United States prior to the outbreak of World War II.  In collaboration with avant-garde composer George Antheil, the two used knowledge from their respective fields to patent a “secret communication system.”  Their invention was intended to guide a torpedo by remote control to an enemy target, utilizing a novel synchronized frequency-hopping radio signal to prevent any jamming or interference from the enemy.

Figure 7 above depicts the torpedo in action, controlled from a mother ship and spotter aircraft, adjusting course to account for the ocean current and the enemy ship’s evasive maneuvers.

Patent Case File 2,292,387; Patent Case Files, 1836-1993; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Record Group 241; National Archives

Their innovative system was never adopted during the war, and neither would ever profit from their patent, but their ideas in frequency shifting would later prove instrumental in modern cellular and WiFi communications methods. Both Lamarr and Antheil were later inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

via the National Archives at Kansas City on Twitter:

Hedy Lamarr would have turned 100 on Nov. 9. #DYK the actress received a #patent for a secret comm. system? #USPTO pic.twitter.com/GUI20Nt6aQ

— Kansas City Archives (@KCArchives)

November 20, 2014

Labor Day 2028

In 1928, famed British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would advance so far in a hundred years – by 2028 – that it will replace all work, and no one will need to worry about making money.

“For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.”

We still have thirteen years to go before we reach Keynes’ prophetic year, but we’re not exactly on the way to it. Americans are working harder than ever.

Keynes may be proven right about technological progress. We’re on the verge of 3-D printing, driverless cars, delivery drones, and robots that can serve us coffee in the morning and make our beds.

But he overlooked one big question: How to redistribute the profits from these marvelous labor-saving inventions, so we’ll have the money to buy the free time they provide?

Without such a mechanism, most of us are condemned to work ever harder in order to compensate for lost earnings due to the labor-replacing technologies.

Such technologies are even replacing knowledge workers – a big reason why college degrees no longer deliver steadily higher wages and larger shares of the economic pie.

Since 2000, the vast majority of college graduates have seen little or no income gains.

The economic model that predominated through most of the twentieth century was mass production by many, for mass consumption by many.

But the model we’re rushing toward is unlimited production by a handful, for consumption by the few able to afford it.

The ratio of employees to customers is already dropping to mind-boggling lows.

When Facebook purchased the messaging company WhatsApp for $19 billion last year, WhatsApp had fifty-five employees serving 450 million customers.

When more and more can be done by fewer and fewer people, profits go to an ever-smaller circle of executives and owner-investors. WhatsApp’s young co-founder and CEO, Jan Koum, got $6.8 billion in the deal.

This in turn will leave the rest of us with fewer well-paying jobs and less money to buy what can be produced, as we’re pushed into the low-paying personal service sector of the economy. 

Which will also mean fewer profits for the handful of billionaire executives and owner-investors, because potential consumers won’t be able to afford what they’re selling.

What to do? We might try to levy a gigantic tax on the incomes of the billionaire winners and redistribute their winnings to everyone else. But even if politically feasible, the winners will be tempted to store their winnings abroad – or expatriate.

Suppose we look instead at the patents and trademarks by which government protects all these new inventions.

Such government protections determine what these inventions are worth. If patents lasted only three years instead of the current twenty, for example, What’sApp would be worth a small fraction of $19 billion – because after three years anybody could reproduce its messaging technology for free.  

Instead of shortening the patent period, how about giving every citizen a share of the profits from all patents and trademarks government protects? It would be a condition for receiving such protection.

Say, for example, 20 percent of all such profits were split equally among all citizens, starting the month they turn eighteen.

In effect, this would be a basic minimum income for everyone.

The sum would be enough to ensure everyone a minimally decent standard of living – including money to buy the technologies that would free them up from the necessity of working.

Anyone wishing to supplement their basic minimum could of course choose to work – even though, as noted, most jobs will pay modestly.

This outcome would also be good for the handful of billionaire executives and owner-investors, because it would ensure they have customers with enough money to buy their labor-saving gadgets.

Such a basic minimum would allow people to pursue whatever arts or avocations provide them with meaning, thereby enabling society to enjoy the fruits of such artistry or voluntary efforts.

We would thereby create the kind of society John Maynard Keynes predicted we’d achieve by 2028  – an age of technological abundance in which no one will need to work.

Happy Labor Day.

U.S. PATENT #8,610,295:
Reclaiming energy from waste water in tall buildings

THINK OF IT AS…Bath water-generated hydroelectricity. This system uses gravity to make electricity from rainwater, grey water and black water as it exits tall buildings. With every flush or turn of a faucet, water rushes down into a turbine, generating power and making you rethink your next goldfish funeral.

Another patent from our 21st year of record-breaking innovation.

According to the Today show, this patent from our holdings has finally ended the age-long debate: over or under.

For some reason, the inventor seems to make a big fuss about the fact that he came up with the idea of inserting perforations into the roll. But for TP users more than a century later, the takeaway is this: The drawing Wheeler submitted with the patent application clearly shows how rolls should hang.

Once and for all, folks, it’s over.

Why We Allow Big Pharma to Rip Us Off

According to a new federal database put online last week, pharmaceutical companies and device makers paid doctors some $380 million in speaking and consulting fees over a five-month period in 2013.

Some doctors received over half a million dollars each, and others got millions of dollars in royalties from products they helped develop.

Doctors claim these payments have no effect on what they prescribe. But why would drug companies shell out all this money if it didn’t provide them a healthy return on their investment?

America spends a fortune on drugs, more per person than any other nation on earth, even though Americans are no healthier than the citizens of other advanced nations.

Of the estimated $2.7 trillion America spends annually on health care, drugs account for 10 percent of the total.

Government pays some of this tab through Medicare, Medicaid, and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.  But we pick up the tab indirectly through our taxes.

We pay the rest of it directly, through higher co-payments, deductibles, and premiums.

Drug company payments to doctors are a small part of a much larger strategy by Big Pharma to clean our pockets.

Another technique is called “product hopping” –making small and insignificant changes in a drug whose patent is about to expire, so it’s technically new.

For example, last February, before its patent expired on Namenda, its widely used drug to treat Alzheimer’s, Forest Laboratories announced it would stop selling the existing tablet form of in favor of new extended-release capsules called Namenda XR. 

The capsules were just a reformulated version of the tablet. But even the minor change prevented pharmacists from substituting generic versions of the tablet.

Result: Higher profits for Forest Labs and higher costs for you and me.  

Another technique is for drug companies to continue to aggressively advertise prescription brands long after their twenty-year patents have expired, so patients ask their doctors for them. Many doctors will comply.

America is one of few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs.

A fourth tactic is for drug companies to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay their cheaper versions. These so-called “pay-for-delay” agreements generate big profits for both the proprietary manufacturers and the generics. But here again, you and I pay. The tactic costs us an estimated $3.5 billion a year.

Europe doesn’t allow these sorts of payoffs, but they’re legal in the United States because the major drug makers and generics have fought off any legislative attempts to stop them.

Finally, while other nations set wholesale drug prices, the law prohibits the U.S. government from using its considerable bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate lower drug prices. This was part of the deal Big Pharma extracted for its support of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The drug companies say they need the additional profits to pay for researching and developing new drugs.

But the government supplies much of the research Big Pharma relies on, through the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is spending more on advertising and marketing than on research and development – often tens of millions to promote a single drug.

And it’s spending hundreds of millions more every year lobbying. Last year alone, the lobbying tab came to $225 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s more than the formidable lobbying expenditures of America’s military contractors.

In addition, Big Pharma is spending heavily on political campaigns. In 2012, it shelled out over $36 million, making it the biggest political contributor of all American industries.

Why do we put up with this? It’s too facile to say we have no choice given how much the industry is spending on politics. If the public were sufficiently outraged, politicians and regulatory agencies wouldn’t allow this giant ripoff.

But the public isn’t outraged. That’s partly because much of this strategy is hidden from public view.

But I think it’s also because we’ve bought the ideological claptrap of the “free market” being separate from and superior to government.

And since private property and freedom of contract are the core of the free market, we assume drug companies have every right to charge what they want for the property they sell.

Yet in reality the “free market” can’t be separated from government because government determines the rules of the game.

It determines, for example, what can be patented and for how long, what side payoffs create unlawful conflicts of interest, what basic research should be subsidized, and when government can negotiate low prices.

The critical question is not whether government should play a role in the market. Without such government decisions there would be no market, and no new drugs.

The issue is how government organizes the market. So long as big drug makers have a disproportionate say in these decisions, the rest of us pay through the nose.