Recently, President Joe Biden told the nation, "We are in competition … to win the 21st century. We are at a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back better…We have to compete more strenuously…We have to develop and dominate products and technologies of the future."
Fast forward less than a month later, and the president just offered U.S. support for a World Trade Organization (WTO) proposal that would give competitors unbridled access to the most important intellectual property (IP) in the world right now: American COVID-19 vaccine technology.
You heard that right.
By supporting the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, proposed by India and South Africa, the Biden administration just took its most radical step yet, once again caving to far-left radicals who have a stake in undermining U.S. private sector innovation on their road to socialism.
If U.S. support does indeed tip the scales and lead to the WTO’s final approval of the measure, American companies will be forced to hand over proprietary IP that is the result of billions of dollars in private research and development, as well as thousands of man hours working overtime to produce vaccines that could quite literally save the world.
As it stands, the United States has committed $4 billion to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) effort, more than any other country and nearly half of COVAX’s proposed budget. In addition, the White House already agreed to supply 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine supply to the rest of the world, and this is on top of increasingly ambitious pledges from vaccine makers to distribute millions more vaccines outside the U.S.
According to experts, given ongoing supply shortages and the lack of additional manufacturing capacity in many places, the move to forfeit American IP does nothing for countries who need vaccines, but does everything for America’s economic competitors who want nothing more than access to the innovation that has the U.S. leading the world in vaccine efficacy and distribution.
Do not be fooled by proponents calling the IP waiver "temporary." Once this technology is out there, it cannot be taken back.
What’s more, the U.S. is now signaling to the private sector and investors its willingness to take what IP investments that are yours, and the financial risks incurred along the way to develop them, and hand over the new intellectual property to foreign competitors like China, India and others on a silver platter, or in this case, with President Joe Biden’s seal of approval.
Considering the average drug takes $2.6 billion and over a decade to come to market, investors, scientists and risk takers will question why invest all that time and money if others will just be allowed to cheat off your innovations. It was innovation investments and competition that created the technology infrastructure that produced multiple effective vaccines in record time during the pandemic.
President Biden’s actions on these patents, as well as Nancy Pelosi’s and other liberals’ efforts to establish a government-run socialized medicine system, leave open to question whether any such type of pandemic response could ever occur in the future. Most likely not once incentives and protections are removed – by theft, gift or misguided political considerations – for innovators and investors.
The U.S. has been leading the world and rolling out even more ambitious plans to deliver greater aid to countries in need. By scrapping patent protections, the administration will have stripped incentives for companies to continue their work on next-generation drugs, the next pandemic and breakthroughs for countless diseases.
Even the editorial board of The Washington Post, no bastion of free market thinking, recently opined that "The most salient fact is that patents on vaccines are not the central bottleneck, and even if turned over to other nations, would not quickly result in more shots."
Another frittering factor: criminals and countries with lower quality standards will now be injecting counterfeit and substandard drugs into the marketplace, jeopardizing the health of patients all over the world.
The Biden administration must reverse course immediately. The American private sector has stepped up to the plate over and over again throughout the COVID-19 crisis—including commitments to provide billions of vaccines to both developed and underdeveloped countries. Yet, what President Biden’s has done this month, will make such an extraordinary achievement in the future and impossibility.
Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media.