“The National Institutes of Health is prepared to aggressively defend its assertion that its scientists helped invent a crucial component of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine. … If federal researchers were named as co-inventors in the patent, the government would have a nearly unfettered right to license the Moderna vaccine to other manufacturers, which could expand access to it in poorer nations and bring the government millions in revenue.” — New York Times
Look, we have the technology to save the planet from the killer asteroid— we have the missiles, the explosives, the jet propulsion, and even a comically large red launch button — but there is just one small problem: My company invented that technology, and we are not sharing the patent with anyone, especially NASA, who wish they contributed to our big red button. They didn’t. In fact, they lobbied hard to make the button green and normal-sized. Now they want to ruin my once-in-a-lifetime chance to become Bezos-level rich.
Before I say anything else (because I know everyone is freaking out about this whole “asteroid killing everyone” thing) , we will definitely destroy the asteroid and save everyone. And by definitely, I mean probably. And when I say “probably,” I mean we will do it once it makes financial sense and not a moment earlier.
If you’re living in a reality where the federal government provided us with billions of dollars of funding, help from researchers, and integral contributions to the development of our missile, I’d suggest you back off. Your reality doesn’t involve maximum profits for my company and me. It doesn’t involve me collecting even more money than the billions already generated from our missile-building enterprise. It doesn’t involve sole proprietorship over the big red button, which is fun and also integral.
I know everyone just wants us to press the button (myself included), but there is a lot of money to be made from saving the Earth from cosmic destruction. My company is looking at record profits — our margins are literally out of this world — and if we can’t license our missile and sell it to other nations also trying to avoid annihilation, then I just don’t know whether it makes financial sense to prevent Armageddon.
Without an airtight patent, stopping the world from becoming an oversized potato chip won’t be as beneficial to our shareholders. Our board of directors will be mad if I don’t get our company exclusive licensing rights to the missile and the lunar-crater-sized red button. (You have to jump on it to activate it!)
I wish there were a simple solution to this problem, but there isn’t. This situation was born out of centuries of politics and bureaucracy, and without capitalism, no one would be incentivized to save the planet in the first place. That can’t change overnight — not for you, not for me, not for the Earth, and not for the multitudes facing imminent fiery peril. In this instance, it turns out the cost of doing business is exceptionally high, which we feel really bad about!
At least the asteroid is the only threat to our planet, and there aren’t other issues that also desperately need to be addressed. I’m glad everything is fine, and we aren’t facing impending doom in every direction. We may not know how to fix every issue, but at least we are fixing the problems within our power to fix — right?
In many ways, it is already too late. This discussion has gone on long enough that saving everyone is impossible. The asteroid is already raining debris down upon us and killing millions. Every moment we wait, more people are guaranteed to die. We could stop it, but we won’t. Not yet. (Believe me, I am so excited to jump on that red button, the confetti cannons are already in position for when I do.) Luckily, we at the Davenport Institute of Comet Killing Superstars (DICKS) are already inoculated , safe in a bunker deep underground.
Don’t get me wrong: we are acting with urgency. We want to help all those people out there. But at the end of the day, we will be fine, so waiting a couple of moments longer isn’t the end of the world. (For us, at least.)