Our CEO Tony Nash recently guested at the BBC Business Matters to share his thoughts on the lifting of the vaccine patent protections to help in manufacturing more vaccines faster. Is that fair specially in this time of need? Also discussed are the special case of Facebook and Twitter’s suspension of Donald Trump’s social media accounts, college football, and the growing industry of recycled furniture.
BBC Business Matters Description:
The US government has backed a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines in a move likely to enrage the pharmaceutical industry, which strongly opposes a so-called waiver. Shares of the major coronavirus vaccine companies were hit by the announcement but is it just an empty gesture? We speak to Jorge Contreras, Chair of the Open Covid Pledge, a group that is lobbying organisations to share their patents and copyrights in relation to vaccine efforts. We also hear from Thomas Cueni, of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. And there’s no status update for Donald Trump anytime soon; Facebook decides to uphold it’s ban of the former US president. We speak to Issie Lapowsky, Senior Reporter at tech site Protocol. Also in the programme, college sports in the United States are a big business, but the athletes taking part have typically been compensated through scholarships rather than salaries. But could that change? The BBC’s Will Bain reports. Plus, the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea has launched a scheme in the UK to buy unwanted furniture back from its customers, in a bid to save items from going to landfill. Hege Saebjornsen is the company’s sustainability manager for the UK and Ireland explains how it works. And we’re joined throughout the programme by Tony Nash, chief economist at Complete Intelligence in Texas and the writer, Rachel Cartland in Hong Kong.
VS: Tony, do you think, people in Texas will be as upbeat as George, our first speaker?
TN: Yeah, absolutely, I think people here are pretty happy about that. A couple of weeks ago, there was an uproar in India over Americans not sharing vaccines with India. Houston has a very large Indian community. And so we were very supportive of everything that could be done to help get vaccine components and vaccine intellectual property to India. So this is a positive development in every way.
VS: And so in terms of an anxiety of giving vaccines away before the population is fully inoculated, does that not exist in your experience?
TN: I don’t think so. There’s plenty of capacity, at least in Texas, if you want a vaccine today, you can sign up to get it. So it’s not really an issue here. I think India has the manufacturing capacity and the know how to do very good vaccines in India. So once the licensing is clear and the components are there, they can manufacture for India and for many parts of Asia, Middle East and Africa.
VS: Tony, what does this actually mean for Donald Trump? He’s not allowed to use social media at the moment.
TN: There are other social media channels, but I think it’s bigger than that. I think the real issue here is around what’s called section 230 in the U.S. government, which allows websites to not be considered publishers. And under Section 230, they are supposed to provide unrestricted access to posting content unless it’s a rules based system. This is clearly a personal deal. Whether you like Trump or not, this is this is making special rules for an individual. I think the bigger issue is around whether Facebook and Twitter and the other social platforms are abiding by Section 230 or whether they should be considered publishers. The BBC is a publisher there and certain things that the BBC has to adhere to that Facebook doesn’t. And so if Facebook was a publisher, they would have to adhere to the rules that the BBC abides by. So if they’re going to restrict postings like this, they should be a publisher. Otherwise, they need to have rules that they enforced regardless of the individual, regardless of the political party, regardless of the country someone from. I think they need to be applied consistently.
VS: So this idea of this board is a way of sort of perhaps circumventing that.
TN: But nobody does. I mean, nobody if you ask anybody in America, nobody actually believes this is an unbiased board. It’s just a fallacy so…
VS: Wide ranging from all around the world, different types of backgrounds. So you can kind of argue that they are a mixed background with lots of different worldviews.
TN: I run an artificial intelligence company. Nobody in the technology community, hand on heart. I actually believe this is an unbiased view. I’m sorry. It’s just not true. And it’s a big pretend game to act like this is unbiased. I’m not on Trump’s side here necessarily. But if you’re going to make rules personal, that really companies lose credibility as a result of that. And all I’m saying is that Facebook should be considered a publisher and they should abide by the rules that publishers like the BBC abide by.
VS: I’m sure it’s not going to last that we’re going to hear from this issue. And for those of us outside the United States, we don’t understand the significance of college football in everyday American life. Tony, you’re in Texas. Can you paint us a picture of that?
TN: Yeah, so college football is not professional and it’s kind of professionalizing, but by professional, I mean paid, right. So this California bill starts to professionalize college football. I think part of the problem with that step is that we have students who come out of high school effectively 17 or 18 year olds who have really raw talent. They’re not necessarily trained to play professionally. They typically spend time with high caliber coaches in universities to develop their skills in their craft over three to four years. Many of them go out early to try to go pro, but it’s over three to four years and then they’ll go into the professional leagues and make money.
So there is a very large investment that universities are making into those athletes. And what happens at the university level is, when students come to a university, they do get a scholarship. The athletic dorms are not normal dorms. They are first class dorms. The food they eat is first class food. I’ve been in their cafeterias. It’s amazing. So they are not treated like normal students. So they do get a lot of advantages above a scholarship, but there’s this huge investment in their skill. And so, the other side of this is if students want to get paid when they leave high school, they’re welcome to try to go pro after their senior year in high school when they’re 18 years old.
And so if there’s a problem with them getting paid, they’re welcome to to try to join the draft and go through that process. They can do it at any time. They could go pro at 18 years old. I doubt many of them, if any of them, at least in football, would would qualify, would get drafted by a team.
VS: As you say and say presumably then, sports is encouraged at quite a young age, given how lucrative it can can be.
TN: Sure. And so they can try to do that, LeBron James actually went into the NBA out of high school, he never went to university. So there are kind of phenoms who can do that and, more power to those guys. They’re welcome to do it. But university, so the school where I went, where I did my undergrad is Texas A&M University. It has the largest revenue sports program of any university in the United States, very large. But the facilities that Texas A&M has for their student athletes are amazing. They rival any pro facility. And so what’s happened over probably the past 20 years, I would say, is a dramatic kind of upskilling and a dramatic improvement of not just the facilities, but the coaches.
And so there are coaches who go from college level to pro and back because the skills that they impart on the students are are amazing. So, the path to getting paid for your sport is one that is always there. They can always go pro straight out of high school. LeBron James did it, other athletes to it. But it’s a very, very, extremely rare process, I think, paying student athletes. Part of the reason I like college football, I prefer college football to pro because you root for a team in college football, you don’t root for an individual in pro football, really. It’s rooting for individuals. And it’s not really a team sport as much as it is at the college level. So I think a lot would change. I really do think a lot would change.
VS: When we heard that about Rachel’s lockdown project. Lack of. And are you cycling anything?
TN: Always, you know, so we just moved back to the U.S. about three years ago, so we’re not recycling much, but when we lived in Asia, we would regularly recycle as my kids grew up, as we worked through furniture, we would regularly, regularly recycle in Singapore.
There’s a guy named the current goony man in every neighborhood who would come and take your recycled materials. And so we would work with with him and he would donate it or something like that. So, you know, every community has its own way of dealing with these things.
VS: Do you sell on furniture that you don’t know because of these websites these days? You can do that well now.
TN: We do that as well. And it’s pretty common. I mean, there are loads of websites where we can do that. So it’s pretty common. We don’t really throw away much big stuff there. We had my son, my son’s bunk bed here. We just sold it on one of those sites about six months ago. So, yes, it’s very common.
VS: Costly to these sites around. Don’t say I wonder if if a company or a retailer decides that they’re going to buy back things. They’ve actually got quite a bit of competition, haven’t they?
TN: Yeah, I mean, I think they’ve probably done that calculation, it’s a pretty crowded market, so, you know, people will dispose of it in a pretty economic way and make money where they can. So I don’t know that everything will be coming back to them.
That’s probably just a small, small fraction that will actually.
VS: Thank you very much, Rachel and Tony, for joining me today.