India Won't Patent Minor Modifications In Drugs
from the closing-the-loophole dept
While many people are aware of how dangerous software patents are to innovation in the software space, not nearly as many feel the same way about pharmaceutical patents. However, there is increasing evidence that pharmaceutical patents are harming healthcare in a variety of ways, often by slowing the pace of innovation by locking up important concepts and making them too expensive. Recently, India was pressured to update its patent system to cover pharmaceuticals (in many countries, pharma patents are a relatively recent addition), though the rules state that drugs created before 1995 cannot receive patent protection. However, drug makers have long learned that a great way to artificially extend patent protection on a drug is to make a tiny modification and then get a new patent. That’s why you now see Clarinex on the market from the maker of Claritin. Claritin went off patent, so the maker came out with Clarinex, advertising that it was much better, even though that doesn’t actually seem to be the case.
It seems that pharma firm Novartis tried to use this little trick to sneak in patent protection in India for a leukemia drug that came out before 1995. It tried to get a patent on a slightly modified version of the drug, which would then let it ban the sale of generic versions of the non-patented version of the drug. Luckily, as pointed out at Against Monopoly, an Indian court has denied the request, since Indian law says patents should only be granted for new products, or ones where there’s a significant improvement — which is not at all true in this case. That means generic makers can continue to market their drug in India and many, many more leukemia patients will be able to afford the medicine. Novartis, of course, whines that this will slow down drug development, but the evidence suggests exactly the opposite. Having a truly competitive market increases the incentive for real innovation. What Novartis wants is to focus on marginal, useless innovation for the sake of keeping monopoly profits.