Patent Life and Innovations

Are patent protection and scientific advancement mutually exclusive or mutually beneficial?

There was an interesting supplement in the January 23, 2012, Wall Street Journal that debated proposed changes in health care policy. One question was “Should Patents on Pharmaceuticals Be Extended to Encourage Innovations?” I wonder which side of this issue pharmacists would support. The arguments offered are the ones we’ve heard before. As drug discovery becomes more costly and it takes longer to get a drug to market, patent extensions on at least breakthrough therapies are needed to ensure that the investments in drug discovery are made.

The other side raises the issue that there is no proven relationship between patent life and innovation. Besides, the issue is health innovations, not drug innovations, if we want to improve health care in many countries, not just the wealthier countries.

I heard a pharmacist who worked for the pharmaceutical industry suggest that one part of pharmaceutical care is the pharmaceutical used to cure disease or at least modify its negative consequences. If you were to take that position, then it would be easier to support patent extension.

A strong pharmaceutical industry is more likely to produce innovative drugs—and patents seem to be a key element to having a strong industry. I would ask this question: Is there any evidence that not putting more resources in the pharmaceutical industry by patent extension means that resources would be spent in addressing other health care disparities? I guess I am inclined to come down in support of patent extensions, but maybe that has to do with age and training. Your thoughts?