By Govind Persad
Imagine a Harvard MBA graduate trying to decide between jobs at Pfizer and at Snapchat. Both are immensely wealthy firms. Many of Pfizer’s products benefit global health. Snapchat’s are at best neutral and may even harm health. Yet many see Pfizer as distinctively culpable for global health deficits. These arguments often depend on the fact that Pfizer holds intellectual property (IP) in pharmaceuticals, whereas Snapchat holds cash and non-pharmaceutical IP.
In a recent paper in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics, Examining Pharmaceutical Exceptionalism: Intellectual Property, Practical Expediency, and Global Health, I argue for two conclusions:
- Holders of pharmaceutical IP (like Pfizer) aren’t uniquely culpable for global health deficits. Other actors (like Snapchat) who fail to use available resources–including ordinary property and non-pharmaceutical IP–to address health deficits, or who affirmatively cause health deficits, also bear responsibility.
- But laws requiring pharmaceutical IP holders, but not others, to address global health deficits are nevertheless justifiable. Legal responsibility needn’t perfectly mirror moral responsibility.