The cost of ideas

A recent CNET article reminds me that a fine balance has to be drawn between the protection of copyright and the development of technology.
Easier said than done, of course. While credit (royalties, attributions, and so forth) should be given to the originator, prohibiting others from adapting these works and possibly improving on them, is also too rigid a stance and would hinder innovation on a secondary level.
In fact, let’s take this beyond the realm of copyright law. While we should encourage the research and development of cures for diseases, what about patent laws protecting drug companies which charge exorbitant prices for medicine desperately needed by third-world countries?
There is a partial workaround to this problem, albeit only for countries with patent laws that protect processes and not products. Another process can be developed to produce a similar drug, and at a much lower price.
To get an idea of the costs involved, here’s an excerpt of a joint statement issued previously by the Third World Network and Oxfam:
‘Prices of branded, patented products are often far higher than the prices of similar medicines produced by alternative or generic sources. For example, the Indian generic producer, Cipla, is able to offer its AIDS combination medicines for US$150-300 per year per patient, compared with the US$10,000-15,000 being sold by the MNCs.’
I was never a great economics student, but where poor, sizeable populations are concerned, it would make sense to sell cheaply to the masses. And imagine the wonders it could do for your conscience.
I’m interested to see how this tug-of-war between protection and dissemination develops. If anybody has information to add or even if you wish to correct me on something, I’d be glad to hear from you.