Opinion | Patents protect people’s access to life-saving medicine

Opinion | Patents protect people’s access to life-saving medicine

In his May 29 Outlook essay, “Spring cleaning 2022: The patent system,” Joseph E. Stiglitz argued that patents impede the “widest dissemination of the benefits of innovation” and that a “publicly funded monetary prize for scientists” would be a better alternative.

Mr. Stiglitz’s proposal is completely unfeasible and unproven. Private investors poured more than $129 billion into medical research and development in the United States alone in 2018, more than three times the U.S. government’s contribution and more than 20 times the entire World Health Organization budget. There’s simply no replacement for private capital in drug development. Moreover, history has shown that entrepreneurship and a dynamic marketplace are more likely to foster invention than government-dangled prizes.

And without intellectual property protections, no investor would back risky R&D projects, where the end product costs more than $1 billion to develop, on average, and has just a 12 percent chance of succeeding in clinical trials. If our IP system is scrapped and investors flee, then the public really will pay — in lives lost without access to cutting-edge treatments.

John Stanford, Washington

The writer is executive director of Incubate, a Washington-based coalition of life-science venture capitalists.