The alarmed anticipation of HIV positive or HIV vulnerable populations at the new development of the possibility of a free trade treaty between the European Union and India is understandable. Although this may not be enough cause for the anticipated treaty to be pulled off, if and when the treaty is signed, the concern ought to be made an important factor in determining the shape of the treaty. The concern in short is that the treaty would definitely include an adherence to the Intellectual Property Rights understanding, which would severely restrict or else even decimate generic industries, in their case the generic pharmaceutical industry, so prevalent in developing economies like India. The direct impact would be a sudden rise in the price of HIV/AIDS drugs, as low price unpatented generic drugs would disappear from the markets and in their places only the extremely expensive patented drugs from pharmaceutical companies from the developed countries would become available. Such a situation, as they rightly apprehend, would amount virtually to death warrants for many HIV positive people in the country, for the drugs they need then would have shot up much beyond what most can afford.
For those who have already contracted the disease, the desperation is palpable. But after making sure their concern is addressed adequately in legitimate ways, such as by ensuring the government subsidises the patented drugs, or else making their makers lower prices considerably, the other side of the story cannot be forgotten. The generic drugs makers have done a good service in teaching the original makers of these same drugs the lesson that they cannot be only thinking of unjustified profits. However the fact also is, the generic drugs makers are themselves enormously profitable companies, making a killing from the inventions of others. To a very good extent, the generic drugs makers can price their brands of drugs much cheaper for they have not had to invest money in research and development which the original companies holding patent for these drugs have had to. In this sense, one suspects that the resistance being put up against the strict enforcement of the Intellectual Property Rights has tacit and perhaps even open sponsorship of the generic drugs making companies. The battle from this perspective is very much one of corporate contest for market control. The humanitarian and morality tale of making it easy for the terminally ill in their battle for life is thus only incidental in this script, although this is precisely the colour being attempted to be given, and quite successfully too, by one side of the corporate battle line.
We see justice in these matters somewhere in between the two standpoints. The patent holders cannot be allowed to price their goods unreasonably and the generic product makers should also be given the opportunity to patent their own products if they have introduced their own innovations to what they are copying, perhaps a lower grade patent in which they are required to pay some royalty to the original patent holders. The issue is quite similar to what is happening to the music industry or for that matter the computer software companies. Recoding and software companies, as long as they hold monopoly over their inventions, tend to price their products prohibitively and rob their hapless consumers. Piracy, unethical and unlawful as it may sound or actually is, has effectively tempered their greed. And now, in the age of the internet, and networking technology which enables peer to peer computer connectivity over the internet, music and movie files can easily be shared. Since digital copies of computer files are identical to the original, most of these recordings can be had without anybody having to buy them. The story of Napster is legendary. After Napster shut down following litigation from recording companies, other peer to peer file sharing platforms, in which unlike Napster there are no central servers, but each peer becomes the nodal point, took over. But the ever expanding cyber law has again begun to catch up, and one such extremely versatile file sharing network, Limewire, has been made to suspend its service until January 26 when its case would be heard in a US court. The moral of the story is curiously the same. Piracy effectively is a way of thumbing your nose at the greed of original inventors of market product, but uncontrolled piracy would also obviously kill innovation, for then innovation would no longer carry rewards attractive enough to fuel more innovations.