When is "illegal" not "illegal"? Another example

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  • 01/24/2006

The Wall Street Journal reports on Pfizer’s battle against Chinese counterfeiters who make and ship copies of its medicines, such as Viagra™ and Lipitor™. The story shows how active Pfizer is in counteracting this activity (which I trust we all agree is harmful to human welfare). It also reports on other examples of counterfeiting, such as a Chinese copy of a General Motors automobile, which the Chinese government does not altogether appear committed to stamping out.

Now, I know that “friends don’t let friends drive Chevrolets”, as the bumper sticker on many a Ford or Toyota pick-up reads, but (all kidding aside), if the U.S. government decided to make it illegal for GM to manage how it manufactures and sells its cars worldwide, you would have no idea whether you were driving a real GM car or a Chinese knock-off with dodgy brakes, fatigued metal in the frame, and seat belts that were just stapled behind the fabric. Plus, GM would quickly learn that it doesn’t pay to invest in new automotive technology because the U.S. government would just let foreigners steal it. That’s why the U.S. government is supporting GM in its Chinese legal battles against these counterfeiters, according to the article.

On the other hand, if Chinese companies want to develop their own automotive brands and sell them to Americans, they are free to do so. In fact, in January 2005, Malcolm Bricklin, a well-known automotive entrepreneur who imported Yugos years ago, announced plans to import Chery cars, a major Chinese brand, to the U.S. starting in 2007. Far from preventing this international free trade, U.S. law will protect Chery’s trademark and patents just like it protects GM’s.

Now, I would guess that it is many times harder to ship fake cars into the U.S. than fake pills, but the same legal framework, incentives, and dangers arise. So, it does not make sense that some U.S. politicians, lately even California’s Governor Szchwarzenegger, have decided that they do not like international free trade that respects intellectual property and outlaws piracy, but prefer to allow counterfeiters send their fake pills into the U.S. unchecked, via what is disingenuously labeled “drug importation”.


Zamiska, N., & H.W. Tesoriero. 2006. “As Pfizer Battles Fakes in China, Nation’s Police Are Uneasy Allies,” Wall Street Journal, January 24: A1


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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