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Striking Down Weak Patents Protects Patients

posted by Alicia Caramenico

on July 1, 2015

It’s no surprise that consumers are growing increasingly frustrated with the high cost of prescription drugs. Families are paying record-breaking price tags for their medications, and the costs continue to add up.

In some cases, these explosive drug prices are the result of drugmakers’ patent schemes that financially distress consumers and limit their treatment options. That is why a recent proposal to exempt pharmaceutical companies from a key consumer protection would leave families across the country even more hostage to egregious pharmaceutical prices.

Pharmaceutical companies are pushing lawmakers to include a special interest exemption from the Inter Partes Review (IPR) process. The IPR is a quicker, more efficient, and less expensive way to challenge and weed out weak patents. Those weak patents lead to instances of “product hopping” or “evergreening,” which allow pharmaceutical companies to artificially prolong drug patents to avoid competition from more affordable generics.

Virtually all companies engage in these tactics, which involve taking existing drugs and making slight tweaks in dosage form, strength, or formulation, and marketing them as “new drugs” such as “extended release” or “once daily” pills. As drug companies continue to invest in these so called “life cycle management” strategies, exempting pharma from the IPR process would come at a huge cost to consumers.

Here’s why: Instead of the IPR process, pharma patent challenges would get tied up in costly litigation battles between brand-name and generic drug manufacturers that can easily span years. This would mean drugmakers would put their investment dollars toward patent litigation and patent extensions rather than R&D to bring new medical innovations to patients.

The impact of patent abuses is felt by consumers and employers first hand: higher costs for needed drugs, and fewer treatment choices due to the blocking of generic and biosimilar competition from coming to market. AHIP Interim CEO Dan Durham highlighted these harmful effects in a recent letter to leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and he stressed that “the IPR holds great promise” for reducing anticompetitive pricing schemes. As the letter noted, we need to protect the IPR process to make sure consumers aren’t forced to bear excessively high drug prices because of weak patents that wouldn’t survive review under IPR.

Exorbitant prescription drug prices are already unsustainable and unaffordable. Allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers to avoid examination of weak patents under IPR will keep those soaring drug prices high – restricting patient access to the medications they need and making them even more difficult to afford.

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