Apr 2023: Bipartisan Calls for Patent Reform Keep Coming

29 Apr 2023

It’s not very often that you will see Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congressman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) agree on something. But, just this month, both legislators authored letters expressing the same wish: for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to root out drugmakers’ patent abuse and address its role in driving out-of-control drug prices.

As we’ve said before, at a moment where federal politicians are bitterly divided, reforming the patent system has bipartisan appeal. What’s even more encouraging is that there’s growing consensus from both parties not just on the need to stop patent abuse, but on specific solutions for how to do it.

For example, both Sen. Warren’s letter, sent with Rep. Jayapal (D-WA), and Rep. Arrington’s letter, co-signed with two Democratic and two Republican House members, call for similar means of prohibiting patent thickets. To that point, my co-ED Priti Krishtel recently authored an op-ed with economist Dr. Wayne Brough pointing out how the patent system can return to its original intent by rewarding actual inventions, something both parties can and should get behind.

The first four months of this year have shown that we have the solutions, the momentum, and the bipartisan interest needed to start fixing the patent system and tackling the drug pricing crisis. Now it’s time to act.

What we’re doing

As I mentioned above, Priti and R Street Institute’s Dr. Wayne Brough called out the urgent need and bipartisan support for patent reform. They single out three essential reforms that can, and must, be implemented now:

  1. Congress must work with the FDA and the USPTO to raise the bar for what gets patented.
  2. The USPTO must integrate more public voices into the patent system so there is a stronger balance of public and private interests.
  3. The USPTO must make the process for challenging weak patents less costly and complicated to ensure the patent system better serves the public.

As we approach the expiration of some of Johnson & Johnson’s key patents on its blockbuster psoriasis drug Stelara, we’re witnessing a showcase of defensive anti-competitive tactics. I spoke to BioPharma Dive about the different patent and intellectual property plays J&J is using to try and block Amgen’s biosimilar and how it’s emblematic of patent abuse across the biologics space.

Relevant news rundown

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing with USPTO Director Kathi Vidal to review the USPTO’s legislation and policymaking processes. In his closing remarks, Chairman Issa (R-CA) expressed a desire to engage the PTO more frequently. This is a good sign. However, the Subcommittee must use future hearings to look into what the USPTO can do to foster competition throughout the economy rather than just discuss ways to give more protection to patent holders. On LinkedIn, I shared three questions the Subcommittee should ask in the future.

While drug patent abuse is seen most intensely in the U.S., the same drugmakers try similar patent tricks in Europe. A leaked draft of new legislation shows that European regulators appear to be catching some of America’s momentum as they get ready to address the pharmaceutical industry’s gaming of the EU system.

The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), recently released a comprehensive report titled “The Cost of Prescription Drug Patent Abuse”. To complement their research, they’ve set up a page to collect stories about peoples’ experiences with high drug prices. Whether it’s in research or policymaking, the perspective of directly impacted communities is essential so please share far and wide.

Sarah Speight wrote an excellent article for Life Sciences IP Review explaining the lessons we need to learn from the blockbuster drug Humira. I spoke to her about how companies like AbbVie use the patent system to maximize their profits while doing the least amount of R&D possible.

Something hopeful

Last week I was in Rio de Janeiro for #Rio2023, an international gathering where movement leaders met to learn lessons from the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and apply them to the future work of health and climate justice. Intellectual property, particularly as it relates to the transfer and access to technology, will be just as significant for future pandemics as it will be for mitigating climate change. I co-authored this UN report on patents and clean energy several years ago, and worryingly the issue of IP and how to address access to climate technology has fallen off the agenda in the decade since. From its inception through to the actual experience on the ground, this summit is a sign that our movements will put it back on the agenda.

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