[Ip-health] The Path to Racial Justice Runs Through This Agency

Chee Yoke Ling yokeling at twnetwork.org
Sun Feb 14 01:08:55 PST 2021


Excellent, Tahir - thank you.

Yoke Ling

> On Feb 12, 2021, at 1:08 AM, Tahir Amin <tahir at i-mak.org> wrote:
> 
> https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/09/opinion/biden-patent-office.html
> 
> *The Path to Racial Justice Runs Through This Agency*
> 
> President Biden should choose the next director of the U.S. Patent and
> Trademark Office carefully
> 
> On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed an executive order
> <https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-for-underserved-communities-through-the-federal-government/#:~:text=Affirmatively%20advancing%20equity%2C%20civil%20rights,the%20whole%20of%20our%20Government.&text=By%20advancing%20equity%20across%20the,historically%20underserved%2C%20which%20benefits%20everyone.>
> proclaiming
> a “whole-of-government equity agenda.” Among other things, the order
> requires the head of each federal agency to identify and seek to redress
> structural inequities in its operations.
> 
> When it comes to the advancement of racial equity, some agencies
> immediately come to mind — the Departments of Housing and Urban
> Development, Education, and Health and Human Services, to name just three.
> Mr. Biden’s picks for these agencies will be closely scrutinized by anyone
> who cares about racial justice.
> 
> But one appointment crucial to the achievement of that goal consistently
> flies under the radar: the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
> — a position that for the nation’s entire history, with the exception of
> Michelle Lee, a Barack Obama appointee, has been filled by a white male
> <https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/past-uspto-leaders>.
> 
> A division of the Department of Commerce, the Patent and Trademark Office
> grants patents (rewards in the form of time-limited monopolies issued by
> governments) and trademarks, as the Constitution directs, to “promote the
> Progress of Science and useful Arts <https://www.uspto.gov/about-us>.”
> Though the connection is less obvious than for agencies that deal with
> civil rights, poverty, health care or housing, there is a direct line
> between what the agency does and the systemic disenfranchisement of Black
> people.
> 
> Structural racism has a long history in our patent system. Like redlining
> <https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/fair_lend_fhact.pdf>,
> the patent system played a huge role in denying Black people opportunities
> for upward mobility — opportunities that were readily available to white
> people. Enslaved people weren’t allowed to patent their inventions
> <https://www.americanbar.org/groups/intellectual_property_law/publications/landslide/2018-19/march-april/colorblind-patent-system-black-inventors/#83>.
> In the South, their white enslavers often got the patents instead. (The
> cotton gin and the mechanical reaper are thought to have been at least
> partly invented by people who were enslaved.) The ingenuity of Black people
> was appropriated and monetized. Their resulting low rates of patenting were
> weaponized <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03056-z> by some to
> argue that Black people lacked ingenuity.
> 
> Even today, Black people account for only a tiny fraction of patent
> holders. Research
> <https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w16331/w16331.pdf> by
> Lisa Cook, an economist at Michigan State University who served on Mr.
> Biden’s transition team, indicates that from 1975 to 2008, fewer than 1
> percent of people granted patents were Black. Whether that’s due to
> structural issues in the Patent and Trademark Office or to systemic
> barriers Black people face that make them less likely to apply for patents
> is unclear; the agency’s colorblind
> <https://www.americanbar.org/groups/intellectual_property_law/publications/landslide/2018-19/march-april/colorblind-patent-system-black-inventors/#72>
> approach
> means it doesn’t collect demographic data about applicants. Since we can’t
> fix what we don’t measure, the next director must make changing this a
> priority. And, given the agency’s historical lack of diverse leadership,
> the Biden administration should strongly consider a person of color for the
> role.
> 
> While representation matters, any equity agenda for the Patent and
> Trademark Office has to go far beyond who is in charge, or even who gets a
> patent. In addition to fighting a pandemic that has disproportionately
> harmed Black and brown people
> <https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html>,
> America is in a drug-pricing crisis fueled by unchecked patenting.
> 
> An analysis <https://www.i-mak.org/2019-bestselling/> conducted by my
> organization, the Initiative for Medicines, Access, & Knowledge, found that
> the 10 best-selling medicines in the United States in 2019 had been granted
> an average of 131 patents each, with up to 38 years of monopoly protection
> — far longer than the 20 years intended by law. With generic competition
> blocked during these added years of monopoly protection, drugmakers are
> free to increase prices at whim. The average price hike over five years was
> 71 percent, though the Patent and Trademark Office has yet to acknowledge
> the link between patent monopolies and drug prices.
> 
> The new director could help fix this troubling pattern. While patent
> reviews are the purview of patent examiners, the director sets some of the
> rules of engagement. The director could, for example, make it more
> difficult to extend the life of a patent or make it easier for generic
> manufacturers or others acting in the public interest to challenge unjust
> patents.
> 
> Since the start of the pandemic, one-tenth of Black and Latino families and
> one-sixth of Indigenous families
> <https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/94/2020/09/NPR-Harvard-RWJF-Race-Ethnicity-Poll_091620.pdf>
> in
> the United States reported being unable to afford prescription medicines to
> manage a major health issue. Countries with predominantly Black and brown
> populations are vulnerable because wealthy countries have eaten up existing
> Covid-19 vaccine stocks
> <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/us/coronavirus-vaccine-doses-reserved.html>
> instead
> of sharing knowledge and allowing manufacturers in other countries to boost
> the global vaccine supply. This is the predictable outcome of a system that
> refuses to budge on intellectual property rights even in the midst of the
> worst pandemic in a century.
> 
> The Patent and Trademark Office is largely insulated from these human
> consequences of the system it oversees. Few avenues exist for people to
> engage with the office, which, despite being a public agency, interacts
> almost exclusively with people and entities seeking patents for commercial
> reasons — businesses and universities, mostly — and very little with those
> who stand to suffer immensely from those monopolies. For example, a majority
> <https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/organizational-offices/public-advisory-committees/patent-public-advisory-committee/patent>
> of
> the agency’s “public” advisory committee members
> <https://www.uspto.gov/about-us/organizational-offices/public-advisory-committees/patent-public-advisory-committee/patent>
> are
> representatives of corporations, including several from the pharmaceutical
> sector. Is it any wonder that the interests of Black people are overlooked,
> when you consider how vastly underrepresented
> <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/us/black-in-corporate-america-report.html>
> they
> are in corporate America?
> 
> For too long, the Patent and Trademark Office has operated as though equity
> isn’t part of its mandate. But the right leader will understand that the
> patent system is one of the most powerful instruments for justice in our
> federal arsenal. To stay true to its promise of equity across government,
> the Biden administration must choose wisely.
> 
> Priti Krishtel (@pritikrishtel <https://twitter.com/pritikrishtel?lang=en>)
> is a founder and an executive director of the Initiative for Medicines,
> Access & Knowledge, a nonprofit organization working to address structural
> inequities in how medicines are developed and distributed.
> 
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> 
> -- 
> Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director
> Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK)
> *Website:* www.i-mak.org
> *Big Think:* How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system
> <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6RT4InlKQ>
> *Email:* tahir at i-mak.org
> *Skype: *tahirmamin
> Twitter: @IMAKglobal @realtahiramin
> *Tel:* +1 917 455 6601 <(917)%20455-6601>/+44 771 853 9472
> <+44%207718%20539472>
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