Big Pharma wants permission to cheat
Recently, a battle has been waged in Congress over whether companies should be allowed to keep patents that they've obtained by misrepresentation or flat-out cheating. This issue has bubbled to the surface as legislation that aims to overhaul patent laws makes its way through Capitol Hill. As you may have guessed by now, some of the patents in question are drug formulation patents.
In the past, when federal judges find what they call "inequitable conduct" on the part of patent holders, they have voided that company's patent. This makes the patent unenforceable by law. In the pharmaceutical realm, this means that a brand-name drug could be produced by any company that wants to produce it - and it would be entirely legal.
In pharmaceutical terms, "inequitable conduct" (a.k.a. "lying") is when a drug maker knowingly submits false statements, inaccurately described experiments, or conceals information that contradicts the company's claims about a given drug when applying to the patent office.
Unfortunately, the courts have already caught drug companies doing these very things. One appeals court found that Novo Nordisk conveniently forgot to mention that it hadn't performed an experiment described in its patent application for a human growth hormone. In another instance, the company Pharmacia (a Pfizer subsidiary) was found to have used an "inaccurate and misleading" affadavit in order to patent a glaucoma medication.
It's not only shocking - but as a doctor, I believe it's dangerous for consumers. Of course, Big Pharma sees detestable behavior as rather small potatoes - and thinks it should result in nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the courts. Recently, the House of Representatives approved a comprehensive patent bill that would make it harder to prove cases of inequitable conduct. No doubt this bill was passed at the "urging" of pharmaceutical companies.
Bob Armitage, the senior VP and general counsel of Big Pharma giant Eli Lilly and Company said that it would be wrong for the courts to invalidate patents obtained with misleading information. "This is like imposing the death penalty for relatively minor acts of misconduct," Armitage said.
I suppose that pharmaceutical companies and their leaders have become so used to the preferential treatment that their billions in lobbyist monies have afforded them for so many years, that they can't help but assume that they're somehow above the law. After all, they have been to a certain extent.
A vice president at Teva Pharmaceuticals, a maker of generic drugs, says that the reduced patent penalties in the bill passed by the House "would make it easier for [Big Pharma companies] to cheat and get away with it, easier for them to defend their patents, and more difficult for us to get generic products on the market in a timely way."
Naturally, this is all about money. As you know, a brand-name drug sells for significantly more than a generic drug. So if a patent is nullified, then every pharmaceutical company can dive in and start producing its own version of that drug. Suddenly, the drug in question wouldn't be exclusive. And there would be a price war that would favor you and me.
As I said earlier - you can always count on Big Pharma to fight the bad fight.