The US Gov't Paid For Moderna To Develop Its Vaccine; But Moderna Wants To Keep The Patent All To Itself
from the no dept
Folks may know that when Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine he chose not to patent it, and when asked who owns the patent on it, responded: “Well… the people I would say. There is no patent… Could you patent the sun?”
Whenever people bring this up, patent maximalists — especially those in the pharma world — like to come up with all sorts of excuses about how that was “different” somehow. My favorite excuse was that he did this because “the public had funded the vaccine.”
Fast forward to today. Moderna, somewhat famously, helped produce one of the very first COVID vaccines using its mRNA technology. It’s a great thing (I got two Moderna shots in my own arm as soon as I could). You may have heard a lot about Moderna as well. While the company had been around for a decade, this vaccine is its first product on the actual market. It had been experimenting with mRNA technology, but hadn’t actually come out with anything until the COVID vaccine.
But — and this is the important part — it was the US government, and by that we mean “the US public,” who mostly funded Moderna’s COVID vaccine… and it was actually US government employees who did a lot of the important work. At the beginning of the pandemic, the US government gave Moderna $483 million dollars to work on the COVID vaccine. A few months later it gave another $472 million.
Also, Moderna now admits that US government employees were critical to the development of the vaccine:
Moderna acknowledged that scientists at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) played a “substantial role” in developing Moderna’s messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine…
So, “the public” funded this vaccine, and the public — via the government which represents us — helped do the scientific work necessary to make the vaccine.
But Moderna wants the patent. Indeed, it initially refused to even share the patent with the US government. Last month there was a bit of a legal fight as the NIH did the legal equivalent of asking Moderna “WTF?”
The vaccine grew out of a four-year collaboration between Moderna and the N.I.H., the governmentâ€™s biomedical research agency â€” a partnership that was widely hailed when the shot was found to be highly effective. A year ago this month, the government called it the â€œN.I.H.-Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.â€
The agency says three scientists at its Vaccine Research Center â€” Dr. John R. Mascola, the centerâ€™s director; Dr. Barney S. Graham, who recently retired; and Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who is now at Harvard â€” worked with Moderna scientists to design the genetic sequence that prompts the vaccine to produce an immune response, and should be named on the â€œprincipal patent application.â€
Moderna disagrees. In a July filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the company said it had â€œreached the good-faith determination that these individuals did not co-inventâ€ the component in question. Its application for the patent, which has not yet been issued, names several of its own employees as the sole inventors.
Apparently the NIH and Moderna had been “negotiating” about this when Moderna made that filing. As this went public and people (rightly) started calling Moderna out for this bullshit, Moderna took a half step backwards and claimed that it was willing to share the patent with the US government (and said “Moderna remains the only company to have pledged not to enforce its COVID-19 intellectual property during the pandemic.”)
But, it seems like we should go a step further: there’s no reason to patent this. I have no problem with Moderna getting plenty of profit for its important role in developing the vaccine. And, it is. The company went from having losses every quarter through last year, to making billions in profit this year. It made over 7 billion in net income (not gross) this year through the first three quarters.
That’s not because of its patent. It’s because it’s producing something that is important to humanity, which governments are more than willing to pay for, and which remain in high demand globally.
So, don’t try to hog it. Don’t try to hog it from the US government. But don’t even try to “share it” with the US government. Share it with everyone. Let the people “own” it by refusing to patent it at all. After all, would you patent the sun?