Opinions and Editorials

May. 27, 2020

Morning Consult: Fixing U.S. Innovation Policy Is Literally a Matter of Life and Death by David Kappos

The COVID-19 pandemic has us in search of that elusive answer to the question: What went wrong?

To start, it certainly was not a lack of warning signs. Five years ago, Bill Gates started shouting from the rooftops that the world was not ready for this. He has been proven right. Here in the United States, the CDC’s go-to tagline for encouraging vaccines is “it is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it after it occurs.” The death and despair caused by COVID-19 certainly proves it was onto something.

So, what did go wrong? American innovators have been handcuffed by the courts and by burdensome interventions that have stripped away the incentive for our brightest minds to invest the resources needed to create new diagnostic tests and vaccines.

Developing diagnostic tests and vaccines is not easy. Nor is it cheap. They cost upwards of $500 million to develop and can take fifteen years to reach the market. To promote the costly and time-intensive development of diagnostics and vaccines in the U.S., adequate incentives are critical. Our country has long incentivized these societally beneficial innovations through patent protection — a government-provided right enabling innovators to recoup their investments and encouraging them to make further investments.

However, disastrous decisions by U.S. courts over the last decade have drastically reduced patent protection for precisely the kinds of innovation we now need so desperately. And no surprise — dramatic reductions in investment and innovation followed the dramatic reduction in patent protection.