Property rights are fundamental to a healthy free society. They guarantee individuals the right to the fruits of their own labor, while also providing for recourse in the event that this natural right is violated. It is no wonder that the American system is founded upon property rights.
Intellectual property (IP) stems from the same concept of property rights. Intellectual property is ensured through patents, another form of property rights. Patents grant the progenitor of an idea or invention the right to profit from the investment of their own time and labor spent. Article 8, section 1 of the Constitution provides for patents by giving the Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries …” Here, we see that property rights, and therefore patents and intellectual property, are quintessential to the American system of government that has yielded prosperity time and time again.
Why, then, should we allow the government to give away IP for American products to those who did not develop or produce them? This is exactly what has been proposed by the Biden administration via a waiver of certain provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The Biden administration is seeking to waive intellectual property rights of American vaccine manufacturers so that other countries may profit from American time and effort to develop the products in the first place.
This is not a debate over vaccines themselves, but whether or not American companies have the right to profit from their endeavors. This is an issue of principle. America was founded as a laissez faire economic system, so why should we chip away at the fundamental concept of property rights by outright eschewing them?
This is not the precedent we want to set. American companies should not have to risk losing the rights to their IP, regardless of the patent in question. This undermines the role that patents play, as well as property rights, as guaranteed in the Constitution.
Patents are necessary for continued innovation, since further patents allow companies to improve upon their existing products. This is critical particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, where the next life saving drug is just on the horizon. Without patent protection, could we be impeding progress towards groundbreaking cancer treatments or a cure for Alzheimers?
American companies invest large amounts of money and capital to fill much-needed market demands. Compared to much of the world, America has always fostered a climate friendly to innovation. This is due largely to our respect for private property and the rule of law. Manufacturers deserve to maintain their IP through patents, lest we all lose out.
We should be wary of government attempts to subvert IP by seizing patent protection, as the Biden administration seeks to do by waiving the TRIPS Agreement. To do so is more akin to a banana republic, rather than a free market republic like the United States. We can’t allow the federal government to arbitrarily determine the extent of property rights.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past two years, the Biden administration has worked hard to change America’s climate of economic progress for the worse. Whether by moratoriums on drilling leases, suffocating environmental regulations, or tax hikes, Biden no doubt has made it harder to conduct business in America. By waiving the TRIPS Agreement, the Biden administration has set its sights on IP and, by extension, private property rights, too.
Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks.