Or why is a lifesaving drug less protected than handbag?
What do troubled Israeli pharma giant Teva Pharmaceuticals and luxury bag maker Lois Vuitton have in common? Absolutely nothing. So why even ask such a clearly stupid question?
These days anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows that Teva is suffering from a tsunami of financial setbacks, one that is resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in Israel, and many more around the world.
Poor management and a misbegotten $40 billion acquisition of a generic drug maker have been important contributing factors to Teva’s toppling from its Olympian heights. Yet, there is another major wrecking ball that is knocking the underpinnings out from beneath this pharmaceutical juggernaut, namely the expiration of its exclusive patent on Copaxone, the wonder drug for victims of Multiple Sclerosis.
Yes, after untold millions were invested in the development, testing and approval process of this medication, and following a 20-year ride during which Teva enjoyed the profits from its breakthrough drug, virtually anyone with an adequate factory can now knock off Copaxone and sell it for pennies above the cost of manufacture. Neither the FDA not any of the howling anti-big pharma mob gives two hoots about the thousands of families that will now go hungry as a result.
Which brings me back to Louis Vuitton. I won’t dwell here on the lunacy of so many people who gladly shell out thousands of dollars for a rubbery plastic Louis Vuitton billboard posing as a hand bag. Psychiatry is not my bag, after all, and far be it from me to plumb the minds, if indeed they have minds — of western ladies and Chinese nouveau middle-classistes who find personal affirmation and the meaning of life in lugging around these logo-laden advertisements.
Yet I do recall some years ago when knock offs of these then $2,000 bags were being sold on Mott Street for $25; knockoffs that were so good they were virtually indistinguishable in appearance and quality from the vaunted originals. The New York Times was up in arms about this horrifying theft of ‘intellectual property’ and the nerve of selling a $2,000 bag for a mere twenty-five bucks. I wondered the opposite, namely how dare Louis Vuitton sell a $25 bag for $2,000? Of course Louis Vuitton was a frequent advertiser on the pages of the Times while the knock-off artist and his distribution channel in Chinatown were not.
So my question is this: Why is the patent on a drug, the development of which requires the risk of untold millions, a great many years of trial, error, testing and approval before the first pill can be sold — why is such a vital product suddenly cleared for knock-off by any Tom Dick and Harry while the rights to manufacture a Louis Vuitton bag — and to sell this $25 piece of worthless merchandise for upwards of two grand — remains sacrosanct year after year, decade after decade, indeed century after century?
Louis Vuitton contributes nothing to the betterment of life, while preying on the insecurity of vulnerable people. Yet, the law protects its ‘rights’. Teva contributes life-saving solutions to sick people, and the government eliminates its rights after two decades. And now thousands of families are on the streets, and revenues that would be used not only to benefit investors and executives, but which would be risked on R&D toward the development of other new medical miracles are now cut off by competition from those who have no stake in the risk and every benefit of the reward.
Is something wrong with this picture, or am I as batty as the people who plunk down two grand for a rubbery plastic handbag?