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Weak Patent Law Endangers Healthcare Innovation

July 19, 2017
Last week The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating expose that pulled back the curtain on some of the self-serving and well-financed efforts of big high-tech companies (in this case Google) to  influence academic scholarship, and ultimately public policy, in their favor. Such strategies have long been used to undermine the U.S. patent system. As part of their ongoing campaign to weaken existing patent protections, big high tech interest groups have funded troves of exaggerated studies on the pervasiveness of "bad patents" and their abuse by "patent trolls" and “rogue judges.” They do this while ignoring the critical and historic importance of strong and predictable patent rights to economic growth and innovation outside of their particular sector of the economy.

Strong patents are the lifeblood of America’s innovation economy including the biotechnology industry. They are critical in ensuring a steady stream of capital to biotechnology companies developing innovative medicines, alternative energy sources, and insect and drought resistant crops – capital that has now begun to flow to other countries with stronger patent protections like the European Union and China.   In a recent review of global patent protections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that the United States dropped from its #1 position to #10, tying with Hungary and falling behind most EU nations, Japan, and Singapore. Read the full report here.

It can take a decade or more of privately funded research and development before a biotech company can bring its product to market.  Only one in ten candidate drugs that make it as far as clinical trials will actually get licensed.  Despite the risks of biotech investment, the industry attracts billions of dollars in new investments each year based on the promise of its innovative and patented discoveries, which will only be translated into actual commercial products providing a return on investment after years, sometimes decades, of capital-intensive investment and research efforts.

Without strong and predictable protections for validly patented innovations, investors will shy away from investing in biotech innovation, degrading the ability to provide solutions to the most pressing medical, agricultural, industrial, and environmental challenges facing our nation and the world.  A short-sighted approach to patent reform will undermine the promise of these initiatives.

Biotechnology is one of the fields where the U.S. remains an undisputed world leader – both in terms of conceptualizing new products and bringing them to market.  Our Congress should be working to preserve and nurture the sectors where the U.S. remains head and shoulders above the rest of the world, where continued advancements hold the greatest societal and economic promise.

Make no mistake: the impact of weakening patent protection would be severe, and the aftershock could be devastating.