Carl Horowitz

"To serve God's law, one must break man's law."

There's nothing new about this principle. Men throughout the ages have fought, killed and died for it. And latter-day political progressives are hardly exempt from its pull. Heavily animated by religious conviction, various Left-leaning activist organizations have come to believe that fighting poverty and disease in developing nations requires taking extralegal emergency steps. One of those steps is presenting commercial makers of life-saving drugs, especially for HIV/AIDS, with an ultimatum: Lower your prices or watch your patents become meaningless.

In this country, such a practice would be illegal. But other countries don't have to play by our rules. And that's the way these activists like it.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a New York-based nonprofit umbrella group of 275 investor organizations controlling a combined $110 billion in assets, is a prime organizer behind a worldwide movement to redefine corporate governance. At the 16th Global AIDS Conference in Toronto in August 2006, the ICCR and various affiliates distributed a new study, "Benchmarking AIDS: Evaluating Pharmaceutical Company Responses to Public Health Crisis in Emerging Markets." The report evaluated the record of 15 global drug manufacturers according to putative industry best practices, one of which is "increased licensing and technology transfer to generic drug companies." The authors praised five companies -- Abbott Laboratories (U.S.), Gilead Sciences (U.S.), GlaxoSmithKline (U.K.), Roche (Switzerland) and Novartis (Switzerland) -- for making progress on several fronts following "consultation" with shareholders, communities and non-governmental organizations. "(T)hese actions begin to bring industry practice in line with the needs of long-term investors and public health," said Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility consultant to the Maryknoll Sisters and co-chair of ICCR's Access to Health Care Working Group.

These religious progressives, adept at playing hardball with top management, profess good intentions. But good intentions, whether or not grounded in Christian theology, don't necessarily make for sound economics. And in this case, they mask a deep animus toward profit maximization and a key means of its protection: the patent.

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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