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Intellectual property erosion threatens economic growth

This column by TAB CEO Glenn Hamer was published by San Antonio Express-News.

Right now, behind closed doors, leaders from around the world are in discussions to further erode intellectual property, or IP, rights that are foundational to American ingenuity.

If they are successful, it will undercut American innovation and undermine our global leadership — especially when it comes to the development of new life-saving pharmaceuticals.

The rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine was a testament to the power of our IP ecosystem, which helped get shots in arms of millions of Americans and our economy get back to work.

Unfortunately, the World Trade Organization, or WTO, has used this success to peel back layers of IP protection on which pharmaceutical manufacturers rely. Despite there being more than enough capacity to vaccinate the world, they have forced manufacturers to give away valuable IP that others can exploit. Their actions were wrong, damaging and potentially dangerous.

The development of pharmaceuticals is closely watched and heavily regulated. Those precautions are important and necessary for health and safety. But not every nation has those safeguards in place.

The biopharmaceutical industry is vital to the U.S. economy and to our competitiveness. A report earlier this year showed that nearly 1 million U.S. workers are directly employed by the industry and nearly every state — including Texas — manufactures FDA-approved medicines.

That’s why business leaders across Texas and around the country were disheartened by the Biden administration’s willingness to go along with the WTO’s decision to waive IP rights on COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year. That move was harmful to innovation and unnecessary to help ensure the proliferation of vaccines around the world.

Any move to chip away at IP rights is a slippery slope. Now global policymakers are coming after all COVID-19 treatments, seeking a further expansion of the earlier waiver. And they won’t stop at COVID-19 or pharmaceuticals.

All U.S. industry enjoys protection for ideas and innovations generated here — it’s why so many people come to this country to launch and start businesses.

At a time when we are working to rebuild our nation’s manufacturing capacity and correct the imbalance with foreign countries that often have little regard for intellectual property, this move makes no sense.

Expansion of this waiver could allow our international rivals, like China, to seize American ideas and innovation. Giving away American IP to foreign countries could escalate the departure of U.S. manufacturing and research and development.

Texas is poised to continue to lead in the biopharmaceutical industry. From our world-class institutions of higher education to our cutting-edge pharmaceutical and biochemical companies, we are a hotbed of innovation. Recent reports from the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute show the industry highlights an overall economic output of $61.5 billion.

That’s why our organization recently joined with chambers across the nation in calling on the Biden administration and Congress to firmly oppose an expanded IP waiver at the WTO. It is our hope the Texas delegation will echo these concerns on Capitol Hill.

Any further erosion of intellectual property rights will signal to the world that America is not serious about protecting innovation.


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