Might Free IP Save the Poor from their Lot?

Thomas Berg (University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN – School of Law) has posted the abstract of Intellectual Property and the Preferential Option for the Poor (5 Journal of Catholic Social Thought 193 (2008). As abstracted, Professor Berg’s paper advocates elimination of IP restraints so as to provide benefits, such as patented medicines, to the poor. It struck me as odd that I cannot freely obtain a paper about giving intellectual property away freely; I seem to have to buy the paper.

There should be little disagreement over providing medicine to the poor, and that IP monopolies should give way to that goal. Still,┬áthe paper’s focus on IP monopolies or restraints is perhaps a bit off. It is the distribution of the medicine or the beneficial IP that is restrained, usually by those governments that take charge of or have responsibility for the poor populations. If shipments of medicine are sent, addressed to “Those Most In Need,” then numerous instances of diversion or even destruction of the goods are to be expected. That human factor, not the force of IP protections, is what so often gums up the good works.

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