News Release

How Bill Gates Makes Intellectual Property More Important than Public Health

JAMIE LOVE, james.love@keionline.org
Love is director Knowledge Ecology International, and has been arguing that the Gates Foundation, with its sprawling financial ties, allowed it to assert influence early in the pandemic.

He is quoted in a just-published piece in The New Republic: “Few have observed Bill Gates’s devotion to monopoly medicine more closely than James Love, founder and director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington, D.C.–based group that studies the broad nexus of federal policy, the pharmaceutical industry, and intellectual property. Love entered the world of global public health policy around the same time Gates did, and for two decades has watched him scale its heights while reinforcing the system responsible for the very problems he claims to be trying to solve. The through-line for Gates has been his unwavering commitment to drug companies’ right to exclusive control over medical science and the markets for its products.

“‘Things could have gone either way,’ says Love, ‘but Gates wanted exclusive rights maintained. He acted fast to stop the push for sharing the knowledge needed to make the products — the know-how, the data, the cell lines, the tech transfer, the transparency that is critically important in a dozen ways. The pooling approach represented by C-TAP [WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool] included all of that. Instead of backing those early discussions, he raced ahead and signaled support for business-as-usual on intellectual property by announcing the ACT-Accelerator [Access to COVID-19 Tools] in March.’ …

“Technically housed within the WHO, the ACT-Accelerator is a Gates operation, top to bottom. It is designed, managed, and staffed largely by Gates organization employees. It embodies Gates’s philanthropic approach to widely anticipated problems posed by intellectual property–hoarding companies able to constrain global production by prioritizing rich countries and inhibiting licensing. Companies partnering with COVAX are allowed to set their own tiered prices. They are subject to almost no transparency requirements and to toothless contractual nods to ‘equitable access’ that have never been enforced. Crucially, the companies retain exclusive rights to their intellectual property. If they stray from the Gates Foundation line on exclusive rights, they are quickly brought to heel. When the director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute had funny ideas about placing the rights to its COVAX-supported vaccine candidate in the public domain, Gates intervened. As reported by Kaiser Health News, ‘A few weeks later, Oxford — urged on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — reversed course [and] signed an exclusive vaccine deal with AstraZeneca that gave the pharmaceutical giant sole rights and no guarantee of low prices.’ …

“Gates can hardly disguise his contempt for the growing interest in intellectual property barriers. In recent months, as the debate has shifted from the WHO to the WTO, reporters have drawn testy responses from Gates that harken back to his prickly performances before congressional antitrust hearings a quarter-century ago. When a Fast Company reporter raised the issue in February, she described Gates ‘raising his voice slightly and laughing in frustration,’ before snapping, ‘It’s irritating that this issue comes up here. This isn’t about IP.’

“In interview after interview, Gates has dismissed his critics on the issue — who represent the poor majority of the global population — as spoiled children demanding ice cream before dinner. ‘It’s the classic situation in global health, where the advocates all of a sudden want [the vaccine] for zero dollars and right away,’ he told Reuters in late January. Gates has larded the insults with comments that equate state-protected and publicly funded monopolies with the ‘free market.’ ‘North Korea doesn’t have that many vaccines, as far as we can tell,’ he told The New York Times in November. (It is curious that he chose North Korea as an example and not Cuba, a socialist country with an innovative and world-class vaccine development program with multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of testing.)”