A patent is a property right granted by a sovereign authority, such as a government, to an inventor. The inventor enjoys, for a given period, exclusive rights to the patented product, idea, process or technical solution to a problem. It involves the patent applicant (an institution or individual or a group of people) disclosing the technical aspects of the item in question.
Patent debates and laws can be traced to the 17th century in France and the United States. Over time, the laws have been refined, giving patent holders inextricable leverage amid criticism that some of the rights are against the public good. At one point, patent holders were equated to “squatters on public land”.
This has not changed much since patents in the pharmaceutical industry have created commercial empires, caused untold suffering and become tools for world dominance with novel ideas likely to create a paradigm shift intellectually challenged.
To appreciate the patent law, three key aspects suffice: Reward, return and recoup. Firstly, patents are intended to encourage creativity and research among creators and give them credit for their works. Secondly, the quest for patents has been technical solutions to human problems.
Lastly, the commercialisation element of patents creates monetary returns to patent holders. This may involve research in groundbreaking territory requiring large monetary investment for which adequate compensation is deemed necessary.
Patents is an emotive subject and theft of patented works through imitation or counterfeits has been highly contested in courts of law. Debate rages on whether patents relating to Covid-19 vaccines and drugs on experiment to reduce severity of infection should be waived.
Even with deaths approaching 3.3 million and production challenges in producing vaccines, valuable oxygen and ventilators, companies and countries are procrastinating on lifting patent restrictions.
Opponents of patent waivers say the quality of medical drugs and equipment will be compromised, putting more lives at risk. But then, every country has elite scientists, engineers and institutions that can duplicate medical production prototypes in months, if not days. If Nasa can produce oxygen on Mars, millions of kilometres away, anything is possible on earth.
Patent waiver advocates cite the high economic cost of the pandemic that outweighs the benefit of withholding global access to Covid-19-related patented products. Some Covid-19 drugs and kits are products of public-funded private research.
Rigidity in “unsealing” patents of HIV testing and treatment kits is largely blamed for impoverishment and deaths of millions in the early stages of the disease. Medical patents are a God-given privilege for service to mankind.
Joe Musyoki, Kajiado