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Eric Dean: Compulsory licensing could kill research, construction jobs | TribLIVE.com
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Eric Dean: Compulsory licensing could kill research, construction jobs

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Across the country, scientists are developing roughly 4,000 experimental drugs. They’re developing these potential breakthroughs in laboratories meticulously constructed by union tradesmen and women.

These labs are the best in the world, thanks in no small part to these skilled craft workers. My organization, North America’s Building Trades Unions, spends over $1.2 billion in training each year across 1,900 training centers across the United States. These investments help make sure that our work is as precise as today’s most advanced medicines.

We’re proud of the work we do — and we’re proud to work for industries that share our commitment to excellence.

Unfortunately, some in Washington are advocating policies that would deter companies from investing in the future. American workers — whether they wear lab coats or hard hats — need policies that support the ecosphere of innovation and discovery.

For over 15 years, companies in the biopharmaceutical industry and the building trades unions have been united through the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association (PILMA). As chairman of this coalition, I’m committed to the dual goal of creating high- quality union construction jobs and promoting medical innovation to treat and cure disease. Our organization also counts patients as members, as they’re also looking forward to tomorrow’s medicines.

Some policymakers have offered short-sighted, simplistic “solutions” to lower the price of medications and expand access — and these efforts would wreck American innovation.

The United States develops more new medicines than the rest of the world combined because we reject government price controls and assaults on intellectual property (IP) rights, which are the lifeblood for innovation and the resulting new medicines, jobs and broader economic impacts.

One such idea is the notion of “compulsory licensing.” According to the FDA, compulsory licensing is “when a government allows someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner or plans to use the patent-protected invention itself.” And this could be applied to any patented product, not just medicines.

Let that sink in. Essentially, this gives the government the ability to both grant and effectively take away a patent at whim.

What does that do to companies’ incentive to take on great financial risk and invest in new medicines and cures? It guts it.

If the U.S. government were to invoke this practice, the impact on both the biopharmaceutical industry and those that depend on the jobs it provides would be catastrophic. Countries like Ukraine and Colombia have historically practiced compulsory licensing, but leaders of innovation like the United States have always rejected such tactics. In fact, the federal government is focused on limiting the threat or use of compulsory licensing in foreign countries because the practice unfairly shifts the burden for funding such research and development to American patients and patients in other countries that respect IP.

Our members go to work every day at biopharmaceutical facilities because those companies have an opportunity to recoup their research and development investments. Without the intellectual property protections that the United States prides itself on, companies’ incentive and ability to invest billions of dollars into research and development — and by extension infrastructure — would not be possible.

If compulsory licensing were to be invoked here, the implications are clear — less investment in research and development and fewer jobs for our members. But the most consequential impact of this policy would be the upending of the U.S. patent structure as we know it and all the medical breakthroughs that people around the world will never benefit from as a result.

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