Friday, February 5, 2010

Bayh-Dole, IP giveaways, and TARP: an analogy

Were you upset by TARP? You know, the big government giveaway to banks that were "too big to fail"? Many on both the right and the left were outraged at this huge, unwarranted redistribution of taxpayer funds to prop up banks whose woes related to their own mismanagement of risks. Questions remain now about how that money was distributed, including questions about conflicts of interest and the choices of which banks should receive the money. The underlying practical and ethical question is: should taxpayers be forced to underwrite the profits (or losses) of private entities?

Well, the answer given by the experience of the Bayh-Dole Act is: absolutely, stop asking questions. We've been doing this for decades now, and the Bayh-Dole Act is but one example. Publicly-funded scientific research can be used to the exclusive profit of private entities, thanks to essentially the same mechanism behind TARP. The PTO (rather than Tim Geithner) is the arbiter of who reaps the rewards. What is certain is that patent attorneys have profited, and found new places to work in "technology transfer offices," even while there is no evidence that society as a whole (meaning you, the taxpayers) have gotten anything we wouldn't have gotten without the act.

Well now those crying about the SACGHS report calling for slight modifications in the patenting of human genes, are claiming that this will totally undo Bayh-Dole. Of course, this is ridiculous, as the SACGHS suggestions do not go nearly far enough in recognizing the immorality of allowing exclusive control over parts of nature. If only the Congress would look critically at Bayh-Dole, and undo it completely as yet another government-sponsored redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. We could also talk about how it has corrupted science, and academia, and leads to all sorts of new conflicts of interest, but that's for another time. Suffice it to say that hypocrisy abounds when it comes to those who profess to embrace free markets. What they really embrace is state-supported profiteering on the backs of taxpayers. Bayh-Dole is but one example, as is IP law in general. And now that the corporations can influence the political debate directly through political contributions, the fight for our individual rights seems ever more Sysiphaen.

UPDATE Bahy-Dole and our lesser angels: did tech transfer, Bayh-Dole, and IP prompt a recent multiple murder??