Failure to Contain COVID-19


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Stan Kowalski

International Technology Transfer Clinic Director Stanley Kowalski argues that the worldwide failure to contain and manage COVID-19 is largely due to a lack of globally coordinated networks for innovation and intellectual property. Produced and hosted by A. J. Kierstead.

Learn more about the work of the International Technology Transfer Clinic at https://law.unh.edu/academics/experiential-education/clinics/international-technology-transfer-institute

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Legal topics include intellectual property, health law, technology transfer, patents

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A. J. Kierstead (Host):

International Technology Transfer Clinic, Director Stanley Kowalski discusses the worldwide failure to contain the coronavirus. This is the Legal Impact presented by the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, now accepting applications for JV graduate program and online professional certificates. Learn more and apply at law.unh.edu. Opinions discussed are solely the opinion of the faculty or host and do not constitute legal advice or necessarily represent the official views in the University of New Hampshire.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

So Stan, the headlines of late have been filled with the inability of the US to contain COVID-19. But this is a worldwide failure, involving considerable amount of countries and a considerable amount of delay from organizations like the World Health Organization. Where do we start to break this down?

Stanley Kowalski:

Well, first of all, let's take a look at what's happening on the ground on planet earth. There's a lot of finger pointing going on, everybody blaming each other for what has happened. I'm not going to take sides. There's the United States blaming World Health Organization, and people blaming China, and then people blaming the state governments and people saying we're not prepared and so on. But let's look at it from another perspective. We've got a lot of fingers pointing at each other down here on planet earth, but let's take a trip into outer space. Let's imagine that you and I are aliens who have visited planet earth for the first time, and we see what's going on. So we're not emotionally or ego involved in the entire situation, the entire blame game that seems to be going on. The way we look at it is that it appears to be a global system failure. Something's wrong with the world in terms of an efficient system. What's going on? What's gone wrong? And what does this mean as the 21st century unfolds? So that's the starting point. And that's where I think we need to take this. We have, what I would call, a global system failure, and that system failure needs to be objectively identified and addressed and dealt with over the next several decades.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Now what sort of systems do you see as failing in a situation like this specifically?

Stanley Kowalski:

Well, what you hear in the media, to a certain extent, is a coordinated response, coordinated response across the world. And that hints as to what the system failure is. Now, I think what the system failure is, is there has been an egregious failure over the last 50 years to mobilize the human capital of our planet. In other words, there's many, many developing countries who are still living in an old commodity-driven economic system, either that or low end manufacturing, when they really need to develop their innovative potential. In other words, develop their innovation ecosystems. Now, why is this important in terms of the system? Well, it would begin to build on not only more human capital and capability into the global innovation ecosystem, but would also create the networks to make that more effective, efficiently.

Stanley Kowalski:

So let's imagine then that had occurred, and what we would see now would be a globally interconnected innovation ecosystem, where there's numerous contributors to solving the problem of the coronavirus and working together to address this problem within the entire global capital, human capital involved. But that is not the case. It's disconnected, uncoordinated, and a lot of human capital in developing countries throughout the world is not mobilized and not efficiently accessible in order to address this problem. And I also want to stress that the coronavirus crisis we're seeing is not only a disease. I believe it's a symptom of problems that we will see throughout the 21st century. And there are going to be numerous problems with relation to health, food security, global warming, and it's going to require all hands on deck, in terms of innovative potential. So that means tapping into that human capital, mobilizing it, networking it and working together to rapidly address emerging issues, such as the ones I mentioned.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

I just, offhand, specifically with COVID, I mean, a failure of having a centralized method for this comes to mind with the hydroxychloroquine discussion, where there was some random studies in some locations in France that didn't really coalesce with any other organizations outside of it. There was no way to double check it and people just wrote about it and took it as fact.

Stanley Kowalski:

Well, yeah, and what we need is a more coordinated response across the board. And one of the problems is that the international organizations such as the United Nations, which includes the World Health Organization, are not adequately capacitized to do this at this time either. And as you can see, there's a failure of leadership across the board. It's somewhat chaotic. That's an understatement. And I believe as we come out of this, it's going to be critical for someone to assume leadership, to move the world forward, to building innovation ecosystems, to tap the human capital and build these capabilities across the world.

Stanley Kowalski:

I'm talking like in Africa, South America, Asia, to build innovative economies in order to address these problems as they arise. The World Health Organization and the UN can't do that. It would have to be the United States to take the lead in order to build what I would call a new alliance for progress across the world, to build innovation capability.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

If I could stop you there, I mean, why wouldn't that live in the United Nations? Is it a matter of the fact that it's more of a bureaucratic organization than necessarily having the economic ties like the United States would have?

Stanley Kowalski:

That's one reason. The other reason is that the United Nations must answer to the member States. So the United Nations, in a way, serves the needs and requests of the member States that is the nations which are part of the United Nations. Whereas, the United States could assume a more proactive lead. In other words, work in Africa to somehow, and this is where it becomes tricky, to work in a place like Sub-Saharan Africa to somehow motivate governments, which are inherently corrupt, to build innovation economies. The United Nations can't do that. The United States could do that, but would have to be a very sophisticated and nuanced balancing. So as not to destabilize, but to foster development.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Would it be a carrot and stick approach, or would it be something a little more aggressive do you think?

Stanley Kowalski:

Not carrot and stick. It would be motivational. The thing is, is that we have, as we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan or Libya, it does not work to dislodge and destroy the corrupt governments. That only leads to increased chaos. So there has to be a way to, one way or the other, to work with them, to get them to understand that they need to invest in this type of capability and we'll work with them. Otherwise, they're drifting towards failed state status, which will even make things worse as a 21st century proceeds. So that's the way to begin to incrementally build a innovation ecosystem around the world, which does two things. At least, it would begin to stabilize regions in the world with innovative economies, not only on commodities and low end manufacturing, but innovation.

Stanley Kowalski:

And the second thing it would do would be to begin to mobilize the human capital around the world, to develop innovations and work in tandem. Can you imagine how much talent in Sub-Saharan Africa is totally untapped because there is no innovation ecosystem in order for that human capital to become mobilized. So that's the type of thing I'm trying to express. But to make it happen, would require a way to convince the regimes to do it. And I think the United States could do that. They have the diplomatic means to make that happen. But it would have to be always focused on the goal of building innovation ecosystem.

Stanley Kowalski:

Once again, to relate to the alien so that the alien will come back in 50 years and say, "Well, the system is functioning efficiently now." And rising issues can be more rapidly addressed with advances and innovation. So that's what we're dealing with. The 21st century has to be about innovation and it has to be about the whole human race mobilized. Not just Silicon Valley, not just down in Boston or Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, but similar centers for innovation around the world.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Now, how would China fit into something like this, with its very close political system and innovation system that just relies on the Chinese communist party to basically, which is part of the reason why we ended up in this current state with the coronavirus specifically? I mean, how do you see them fitting into this?

Stanley Kowalski:

I don't think that would be a factor. If the United States takes the lead, it's either lead, follow or get out of the way. So that's the attitude I think that the United States policy should have. And China's focused on, what's it called, the Belt and Road Initiative. And that's really about getting commodities to ship back to China. Okay, they can function in a 19th century neo-colonial kind of situation, but the United States needs to and should, and will I hope, become the leader in global innovation and development. Then it doesn't matter whether China's on board or not. It's either get onboard or look out because we're moving ahead with this.

Stanley Kowalski:

So then one can imagine fabulous partnerships and development. For example, with Latin America, the future is in innovation and the future will be out in space. So for example, in December, Richard Branson's going to do the first test flight of his space plane, the X plane he built. And hopefully in 50 years, we won't have to have those two aliens or several aliens come to earth and check us out. We can meet them up in outer space and say, "Yeah, things have improved on earth, where we're here and we're building innovation ecosystems to address all these problems in a proactive and preemptive manner." So that's what I'm thinking about.

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

To direct people to kind of look into this further. I mean, are there are any government departments or nonprofits or anything like that, that are beginning to work towards this end that you envision?

Stanley Kowalski:

Well, there's the World Intellectual Property Organization, with whom we've worked for a number of years, who work in this area of intellectual property and development, because intellectual property is a critical component of this because it's the property rights system, which actually facilitates innovation. That's very important. And the United States Department of Commerce, we work with them. The Commercial Law Development Program on these global development programs. And I'm hoping others will be on board. As we move forward, we have to move into a whole new paradigm of building innovation systems around the world. Because like I said, at the start of this, we are witnessing a system failure, which is still rooted in paradigms in the last century, disconnection, finger pointing, a lack of capacity. We have to bring it all hands on board, get rowing together and build innovation ecosystems to solve these problems. And I think the United States has to be the leader in this and stop pointing fingers and only point finger and that's the way forward. And say, "This is what we're going to do and we're going to get there one way or the other."

A. J. Kierstead (Host):

Thanks for listening to the Legal Impact, presented by UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. To help us spread word about the show, please be sure to subscribe and comment on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify