Patents are rights given to the inventor as an incentive for all the efforts that were put into creating something novel. In the case of drugs, patenting might mean less availability and more cost of important drugs to the general public. So, should we abolish drug patents?
Drug patents help the pharmaceutical industry safeguard its interests and provide essential medication to the public. While in an ideal world, the system would be in perfect balance, allowing both pharma companies and the public to benefit, that isn’t always the case.
In fact, in many countries around the world, the system is largely out of balance. Drug companies use their political and commercial power to extend the length of drug patents and their monopoly over the drug. They buy drug patents put on sale, rather than innovating, as it is a cheaper option to make money. Therefore, some experts around the world are now advocating for abolishing drug patents.
What Is a Drug Patent?
Pharma companies spend billions on testing and developing drugs. Therefore, as a means to help them recoup the money spent on R&D, governments grant them exclusive Intellectual Property Rights. Drug patents allow pharma companies to recover their investment, reinvest in innovation, and push for more affordable drugs.
Drug patents provide pharma companies with patent protection, giving them the exclusive right to market and sell the drug. Once the license expires, other companies can make use of the published records to manufacture a cheaper version of the drug, namely the generic variants.
Validity of Drug Patent in India
In most cases around the world, drug patents last for 20 years. Drug patents in India too last for twenty years, after which generic drug manufacturers can sell their versions of it. Drug patents expiring gives generic companies the green signal to start marketing and selling variants of it which makes the price go down. As the companies apply for a license long before selling the drug, the effective patent period is around seven to thirteen years.
Is a Drug Patent Expiring Bad for the Public?
Drug patents expiring help end the monopoly over a drug. Once generic variants hit the market, the price of drugs falls rapidly, making them more affordable. It also increases and encourages competition, leading to more variety and choice for the public. This ensures that essential and life-saving drugs reach the general public at competitive prices. However, pharma companies buy the rights to drug patents for sale from other companies and extend their monopoly.
So, no. A drug patent expiring is actually good for the public.
Why Isn’t the Patent System Working?
Though drug companies bring in considerable innovation, they try to maximise their profit by extending the length of drug patents. While patent protection gives them a specified period to recoup their investments, they curb competitors from entering the market in various ways. Drug companies build patent walls around their formulations and products extending patents to well over 20 years. For instance, the drug Humira has over 100 patents around it, allowing it to continue its monopoly. The decade between 2005 and 2015, saw more than 75% refurbished patents, which prove the system encourages recycling more than ever before. Also, since new licenses come with minor tweaks in dosage or administration, companies can get more returns.
Should Drug Patents Be Extended?
Drug patent expiration brings massive price relief to the public as competition from generics drives prices low. Therefore, most experts feel that extending patent terms puts the public at a disadvantage. For instance, the drug Suboxone, which treats opioid addiction, was to have its patent expired in 2005. Due to patent extension, it now lasts until 2024, adding almost two decades to its monopoly.
In many ways, pharmaceutical companies have become experts at manoeuvring through the patent system for their gains. Hence, governments should come out with stricter laws that prevent companies from extending the length of drug patents.
Should We Abolish Drug Patents
Patent protection ensures innovation as it provides pharma companies with a commercial incentive. If we do away with the system, big pharma companies will feel no motivation to test and develop new medicines. The drug patent system stimulates an interest in research and development and protects the interests of the researchers.
While the system might not be foolproof, doing away with it could lead to a halt in research. If we abolish patents, no one would even try to come up with a new medication in fear of getting ripped off. Therefore, while the system does have its problems, the best solution would be to reform and not abolish it.
Governments should aim for a thoughtful balance between innovation and affordable pricing. Though it is essential we give drug developers a profit incentive; it should not come at the cost of bankrupting consumers. Laws should be put in place to prevent companies from not spending on research and just buying patents for sale. The patent system should push for innovation, not encourage profit maximisation.