NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fraser Institute: Patent Pirates In Latin America

April 17, 1998

Latin American pharmaceutical manufacturers who pirate U.S. drug companies' patents were reportedly in vocal attendance at the Fourth Annual Business Forum of the Americas -- held last month in Costa Rica. They were said to be ably assisted by members of Ralph Nader's organization.

Experts say the issue of pirating is larger than pharmaceuticals alone. It involves establishing clear and enforced laws throughout Latin America to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. and European companies. Pharmaceuticals, however, serve as a prime example.

  • The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America estimates that U.S. drug firms lose between $900 million and $2 billion a year in revenues in Latin America -- where politically influential pirate drug manufacturers operate with few restraints.
  • With lobbyists for Argentina's pirate drug industry squaring off against U.S. drug manufacturers at the forum, the trade communiqué produced there was so watered down that what was supposed to be a clear call for laws to protect intellectual property dissolved into a weak compromise.
  • Assisting the pirates was American "consumer" activist James Packard Love -- head of Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology -- who asserted that "patents are a tax on the poor and sick that allow drug companies to profit from inventions rightfully belonging to humanity."
  • Love added that governments "must safeguard their citizens' health and pocketbook by stripping drug companies of that undeserved legal privilege called a patent."

Some astonished observers concluded that a new Nader strategy may be to transform patent rights from a legal issue into a political one -- which he might be in a better position to win among populists.


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