In the fall of 2001, anthrax was used as a weapon of terror in the United States, when it was sent to numerous media and political organizations and individuals, including Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Dan Rather of CBS News, and US Senators. According to a report from the CDC, 22 people who were infected with the anthrax spores which were mailed out in two separate attacks, and of those, five persons died. (CDC) Fortunately for many of the victims, once it was established and known that anthrax was the cause of the illnesses (and deaths), Bayer was able to provide for sale to the victims and to others who feared becoming victims, a drug they had invented and patented called “Cipro.” Bayer, AG, is a German based company, which has plants in various countries, the U.S. included. Bayer was founded in 1863 and is well known for its trademarked “aspirin” (1899) but not so prominently known for its trademark of heroin in 1900, marketing it for decades as a children’s cough medicine. During the first and 2nd world wars, Bayer was involved in chemical warfare manufacturing and has spent a considerable amount of time and money overcoming some of the repercussions of their involvment in those wars and the atrocities which occurred during them. Despite this, they remain a well-respected name brand in many households throughout the world. (GMWatch)
Bayer had paid reparations after World War II and had its patent for aspirin stripped from it and awarded to a US Company due to its involvement with the World Wars. Bayer wasn’t allowed to even use its name until 2000 and so during the anthrax crisis, kept a low profile as a deliberate means to avoid appearing “exploitive of the problem” of the anthrax scare in the U.S. Once the anthrax scare happened, however, Cipro went into high demand, and people all over North America were stockpiling the drug, making it even more scarce and driving up the cost. Because only people with prescriptions could purchase the drug in the U.S., Mexican pharmacies capitalized on the market and starting selling it to the US citizens for a huge profit. Canada became frustrated with Bayer’s refusal to answer their questions about its ability to meet production needs in the event the anthrax crisis went global. It suspended Bayer’s patent and ordered other drug companies to produce their generic formulas. Bayer immediately threatened such companies with litigation in the event they violated the patent on Cipro. (Jennings)
The U.S. Congress began considering suspending the Cipro patent as well. The CDC announced a warning to people stockpiling Cipro that it was a dangerous drug with serious side effects which people should not use without medical supervision. Many argued that the US suspension threat was simply used to negotiate down the price of Cipro, and in fact, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was instrumental in these negotiations. At no time during the situation was Bayer unable to fulfill the orders or needs for Cipro. Bayer had $1 billion in Cipro sales in the year prior to the anthrax attacks (Herper, 2001)
At the time of the crisis, Bayer’s statement of corporate values was:
Our goals are to steadily increase corporate value and generate a high value added for the benefit of our stockholders, our employees and the community in every
country in which we operate. We believe that our technical and commercial expertise involves responsibility to work for the common good and contribute to
sustainable development. (Jennings, 2008)
Now, more than a decade after the crisis, you can review Bayer’s newer mission and values statements on their US website (http://www.bayer.com/en/mission—values.aspx).
Let’s discuss this scenario using the ethical dilemma resolution models and the information about social responsibility in our text, as well as using the International Code of Ethics article you can find here or in doc-sharing, authored by our textbook author, Marianne Jennings.
Are there situations in which a company, for the common good, must give up the economic advantage accorded by intellectual property laws?
Should Bayer have followed its own credo more than it seemingly did?
Was it unethical in threatening litigation to those who attempted to thwart its patent rights?
And was the US and Canada unethical in using their governmental actions in ignoring patent law to gain a negotiating edge in getting the price of Cipro lowered during the crisis?
Would an International Code of Ethics have assisted in this scenario?
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