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CONTACT: David Fish
May 19 , 2004
(202) 289-8928
Open Source Software No Model For Drugs
DeLong Eschews Love-Hubbard Plan

WASHINGTON D.C. - A proposal to replace the system of patents and private production that guides the pharmaceutical sector with GDP-based contributions to research and development by individual nations and non-profit collaboration is "the last thing the health care system needs" because it puts "more economic power in the hands of government opportunists, third world kleptocrats, bureaucratic functionaries, and academicians..." That is the view of Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow James V. DeLong expressed in a new article published by TechCentralStation.

Reacting to an article by James Love and Tim Hubbard of the Consumer Project on Technology and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute recently in The Guardian, DeLong questions authors' argument that the experience of open source software proves such non-market models make sense. "Socializing an important area of invention and commerce - for that is what this recommendation entails - is a dangerous prescription," DeLong writes. "The suggestion that this software experience, interesting as it is, provides evidence that we can scrap a system of drug production that is turning out extraordinary benefits on a regular basis is scary."

While he says "much open source software is technically fine," the "immaculate conception version of its origin and contemporary situation bears about as much relationship to reality as the legend of Camelot bears to the reality of the Dark Ages of Britain." Open source programs "are variants or dependencies of the Unix operating system developed by the Bell Laboratories," he says. And Linux depends on corporate backing and people, "almost all of whom are on someone's payroll."

DeLong also said that some of the numbers used by Love/Hubbard are "problematic." The $300 billion they claim global customers might save is a "strange figure." He notes that total annual value of U.S. company drug exports is $200 billion, and the U.S. provides one-third of the world's drugs, "so the assumption must be that distribution should cost close to zero." Moreover, the study questions research into drugs, saying that three-quarters of them offer 'no significant benefit' over existing treatments. He says the source of this figure is "not given" and seems "questionable." It also refutes another of the authors' contentions - that patent monopolies are a problem.

"The great thing about capitalism," writes DeLong, " that it puts world economic power in the hands of the people" who channel "greedy" drug company's efforts by "voting through the medium of their spending." That said, technical issues such as patent length, scope and differential pricing "need continuing adjustment." But Love and Hubbard's wholesale restructuring should remain "a Camelot of their own imagining."

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation