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Report Says Patents Prevent New Drugs 381

Posted by samzenpus
from the but-the-old-ones-were-good dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Current orthodoxy claims patents encourage innovation, by allowing developers to enjoy profitable monopolies on their inventions which in turn inspire them to create new inventions. A new report by the non-partisan General Accounting Office suggests that this orthodoxy is wrong — at least when drug companies are involved. According to the report, existing patent law allows drug companies to patent, and make substantial profits off of, "new" drugs which differ little from existing medicines. Given high profit margins on very minor innovations, the report argues that drug companies have little incentive to produce innovative new drugs. In other words, current patent law actually discourages drug companies from producing new medicines. Responding to the report, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) released a strongly worded statement suggesting that a legislative response will be forthcoming. "The findings in this new GAO report," said Senator Durbin, "raise serious questions about the pharmaceutical industry claims that there is a connection between new drug development and the soaring price of drugs already on the market. Most troubling is the notion that pharmaceutical industry profits are coming at the expense of consumers in the form of higher prices and fewer new drugs.""
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Report Says Patents Prevent New Drugs

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  • Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Petronius.Scribe (1020097) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:06AM (#17323826) Homepage
    The headline draws rather a long bow. I think that what's clear from this report is that the current patent system is broken and stifling innovation. However, this does not invalidate the very concept of a patent, which the article summary suggests is the case. "Current orthodoxy claims patents encourage innovation, by allowing developers to enjoy profitable monopolies on their inventions which in turn inspire them to create new inventions" - this is still true. It's the current implementation of the "profitable monopoly" that is causing issues.
    • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:20AM (#17323926)
      MMM symantics,

      Thats not the point at all,
      the deepepast implication is that drug companies are incentivised to treat and not cure ...
      the patent structure does not create market conditions that would prompt real inovations for instance cures.

      *Cure's* are not good for busness.

      And this i find truly disturbing.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Nappa48 (1041188)
        This Anon has it nailed already. The whole medical world screws us over because curing is bad for their business. Someone creates a cure and they are probably frowned upon. Or in another twisted up scenario, they already have cures for most diseases...and just release them at certain times when they can predict what will happen when its released. T'is a horrible fucked up world we live in... driven by greed, regardless of what it is.
        • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

          by blakestah (91866) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:47AM (#17324668) Homepage
          That's just not true. Polio, smallpox, almost wiped off the earth. HIV infection has been made manageable, and people are working very hard on vaccines.

          The medical system is HUGELY biased to work on treatments for things not working properly, rather than work on prophylaxis. This will never change unless we go to socialized medicine, because people fundamentally go to see a doctor when they are sick, and not to manage their future potential illness burdens.

          I also take issue with Durbin saying this indicates a problem with the patent system. If a new drug comes out that offers no additional benefit, but has patent protection, WHY DOESN'T THE CONSUMER BUY THE GENERIC? That is the real problem. Capitalism fundamentally depends on informed consumers. If anything, I would urge Durbin to consider legislation to inform the consumer about non-patent-protected drugs in a reasonable way so they would not waste their money on a slickly marketed new drug that is only just as good as a generic.

          • Dental care? (Score:5, Informative)

            by tepples (727027) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {selppet}> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @12:14PM (#17325610) Homepage Journal

            The medical system is HUGELY biased to work on treatments for things not working properly, rather than work on prophylaxis. This will never change unless we go to socialized medicine, because people fundamentally go to see a doctor when they are sick, and not to manage their future potential illness burdens.

            Then why are teeth different? It's common for United States residents to have their teeth cleaned by a professional hygienist and looked at by a dentist (doctor of dental surgery) twice per year.

            If a new drug comes out that offers no additional benefit, but has patent protection, WHY DOESN'T THE CONSUMER BUY THE GENERIC?

            Because as I understand it, new drugs rarely offer "no additional benefit". For instance, Allegra (fexofenadine hydrochloride) is less toxic to the heart than Seldane (terfenadine), and Cialis (tadalafil) lasts longer in the body than Viagra (sildenafil citrate). The ADD medication Strattera (atomoxetine), a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, has the advantage over the previous standby Ritalin (methylphenidate) that reuptake inhibitors are an indirect stimulant and thus take longer (two weeks) to start working. This may sound like a disadvantage, but unlike amphetamine style stimulants, reuptake inhibitors does not lend themselves to abuse and are not scheduled as controlled substances. But you may be right about Nexium (esomeprazole magnesium) vs. Prilosec (racemic omeprazole magnesium), as it appears that the biggest difference is the dosage: Nexium is prescribed at higher doses than Prilosec was.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by TheRaven64 (641858)

              Then why are teeth different? It's common for United States residents to have their teeth cleaned by a professional hygienist and looked at by a dentist (doctor of dental surgery) twice per year.

              I've seen this answered before in the context of British people. The US stereotype says that British people have bad teeth, while a British person is unlikely to notice. This is because in the UK, anyone can go and see a dentist and get free care[1]. This means that having your teeth poked is just another inconvenience. In the USA, however, it is a status symbol. Being able to get your teeth cleaned and repaired professionally is only an option for the wealthy or those with good jobs which come with a

          • Re:Exaggeration (Score:4, Insightful)

            by radtea (464814) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @12:27PM (#17325770)
            This will never change unless we go to socialized medicine, because people fundamentally go to see a doctor when they are sick, and not to manage their future potential illness burdens.

            This does not follow. "Socialized medicine" is a very broad abstraction that can take on a wide variety of forms. Canada has what is normally thought of as socialized medicine, but our health care delivery system is still very much oriented toward "people go to see a doctor when they are sick." We do a better job of some aspects of prophylaxis, particularly with regard to peri-natal care, than the United States does, but because our system is one of socialized health insurance where doctors are still nominally private practitioners we have many of the same ills the U.S. health care system has, albeit at vastly lower cost and with somewhat better outcomes in terms of overall lifespan.

            How a health care system is organized is fundamentally independent of whether or not it is socialized in some respects. One could have doctors as salaried employees of health-care corporations in a private system, or one could have doctors as mostly private practitioners in a socialized model as we do in Canada. Far more important than "who pays" is the nature of the payment system, and so long as we think of health care insurance as insurance there will be fundamental problems, because unlike other forms of insurance, absolutely everyone who has health care insurance will eventually get sick and die, unless it is offered only on a term basis, which most people would find unsatisfactory.

            Canada's socialized system is not totally dissimilar from HMOs in the U.S., and both systems do pay more attention to preventative care than traditional insurance, but there are much easier ways to improve the finances of such organizations: de facto rationing of care (as in Canada) and practical selection of patients so that you serve primarily the healthiest part of the population (as in the U.S.)

            I don't have any solution to these issues. Having lived in the both the U.S. and Canada, and as an businessperson, I am much happier with health care services and costs in Canada than in the U.S.--the extra I pay here in taxes is about equal to what I paid in health care premiums in the U.S. as an employee of a large institution, and if I were still in the U.S. I would not have been able to start my own business due to the risk of losing coverage. But no one sane is going to claim that the system here is ideal.

            As to the question of why "consumers" don't choose generics: who is the consumer? The patient? The doctor who writes the perscription? Or the insurance company that pays for it? Even assuming it is the patient, the bulk of big pharma budgets are spent on advertising and marketing, and generics don't generally have the kind of profit margins required to compete with that.
        • by rhombic (140326) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @12:54PM (#17326088)
          I am so ridiculously tired of hearing this absolute BULLSHIT. I'm a researcher at a pharmaceutical company. Most of the conditions we're trying to make drugs to already have a cure: Put down the cheeseburger, put down the mountain dew, get your fat lazy ass off of the couch and get the fuck outside and walk around a little. There is no cure for a retard eating 4000 calories per day with 15g of saturated fat-- you are going to get type II diabetes and atherosclerosis. That's how your body works. And the way the biochemistry works, THERE IS NO CURE. The systems are working exactly the way they're supposed to. Problem is, they've evolved to store fat during the rare times of plenty, and then dole that out during lean times.

          If I could come up w/ a cure, you can bet we would make it. See, we have competitors. Who make a lot of money. If we could make a quick & easy cure, we'd make it, make a ton of cash, and move on. As an example in the last couple of years, Merck made their HPV vaccine to PREVENT cervical cancer. One time, cheap shot, and they've lost a potential cancer patient. Of course, it took forever to get to market because the Republicans think that preventing HPV infection will cause teenage girls to become whores. If you want to look for the reasons our health care system is so fucked up, I suggest that you follow not only the money, but the ideaology.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rc5-ray (224544)
            Okay, your response is that of the pharmaceutical researcher. My response is that of a family doctor:

            I have no doubts that Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, AZ, and all the others are researching all sorts of interesting things that would be a great benefit to society. As you pointed out, if (some drug company) invents a real cure for AIDs, they will make a bazillion dollars and their stockholders will be able to hire Trump and Gates as their shoe-shine boys.

            As a researcher, I imagine that you have personal, social,
      • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kripkenstein (913150) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:55AM (#17324734) Homepage
        *Cures* are not good for business [...] And this i find truly disturbing.

        True, but who said the drug companies' purpose in life is to cure Humanity's ills? They are in it for the money, and free to work on whatever they want. But the point is, other entities have the explicit purpose to cure illnesses: nonprofits and universities. Funding for them is mostly donations or government grants (and there is plenty of money in both, but should always be more).

        We shouldn't expect too much from the drug companies; they are money-seeking corporations, nothing more, and often corrupt to boot. What we should do is make sure that donation and grant money for nonprofit research is plentiful, and rely on them to solve our health problems.

        None of this detracts from TFA's point, however, that the patent system may need modification: even if we don't expect the drug companies to cure illnesses, we still can change things so that they do what they do do (pills that alleviate symptoms) better.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The split between the private sector profit motive and directed research into cures doesn't need to be as drastic as you've suggested. One approach that shows promise is for governments - or NGOs - to offer 'pull funding', similar to the X-Prize scheme. The state, or whoever, says "here's a big pile of money, we'll give it to anyone who can come up with a cure for AIDS/H5N1/toe gunk and give us the patent". That way, you get all the benefits of a free market - anyone can compete to come up with a solution -
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rucs_hack (784150)
        In fact cures *are* good for business, but they are staggeringly hard to create.

        If you can cure a major disease with a drug, the monetary gains would be vast beyond imagining. A pill to cure cancer? You could charge whatever you liked, and a patent on that, well, it would be valuable beyond the dreams of avarice. Also curing instances is not the same as preventing occurances. Repeat instances would crop up all the time.

        Did you know for instance that Garlic kills the HIV Virus outright? Stone dead on contact
    • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:28AM (#17323968) Journal
      The problem is that the patent system allows one to "upgrade" a patent without revisiting the question of "now that you've told everyone how to do X, is X+1 really all that novel and non-obvious?"
      • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rahlquist (558509) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:51AM (#17324140) Homepage
        Agreed, and another problem with that is the change has only to be minimal even as little as changing the purpose and/or dosage of a drug. While I can understand the reluctance of the industry to invest say what $100 million in developing a new drug, at the same time this lack of drive is caused by the patent system.

        If you have an exclusive right to do something with no chance of competing with anyone else then there is no incentive to do anything to make the situation better, good example, mall food service. Many get 'exclusive' agreements for their type of food. So if a bakery opens then another competing store producing a bread product will be denied and there is no competition so the store in the mall can get away with whatever they want because what choice do you have?

        I think its time to abolish patents in their current form. Or severely limit the time period they are effective for. 1 year for medial items, to allow a manufacturer to recoup their R&D costs and after that its the best fastest most efficient that would survive instead of the the company with the most Patent attorneys. Make them compete! There is no competition in a monopoly.
        • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Informative)

          by sinclair44 (728189) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:27AM (#17324486) Homepage
          Agreed, and another problem with that is the change has only to be minimal even as little as changing the purpose and/or dosage of a drug.

          Exactly. I'm a clerk in a pharmacy and on a particularly non-busy night we were all talking with the pharmacist about this sort of thing. He gave an example of some company which came out with Drug X (can't remember which one). As the patent on Drug X was about to expire, they created "Drug X Gel Capsule... better than before!!!" Of course, doctors, not really knowing, started prescribing the new X Gel Capsule, which had a new patent and thus no generic (and by this point, the original X's patent had expired and had cheaper generics).

          Well, the pharmacist pulled out one of the new X Gel Capsules. Guess what it was? Just the original Drug X encased in a gel cap. That's it. A regular pill in a gel cap.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by XxtraLarGe (551297)
            What's next? "Strawberry Drug X Gel Capsule with GLITTER ... better than before!!!" The problem there is the retards at the patent office enable this type of thing to happen. Naturally, the drug companies are going to exploit the situation. I can't believe that they're that incompetent. If they aren't idiots, then I'm sure there are some pockets being lined at the USPTO.
          • Re:Exaggeration (Score:4, Informative)

            by dthree (458263) <chaoslite@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @11:25AM (#17325060) Homepage
            There was another example of this where drug company A's patent on a symptom pill was about to expire, so they make some minor change to it, change the name and get another 10 years out of it. Meanwhile, drug company B releases a generic form of A's patent-expired drug and gets promptly sued by A for patent violation. "It's expired" you say, "how can they sue?" It's because company a sets up a cage of side patents around the drug, everything from how the pill is coated to broadly sweeping descriptions like "drug is delivered by a time-release mechanism". Even if these things have been used before on other drugs, even the same TYPE of drug, company A claims patent infrigement based on the "unique combination with our product". In another example, company A patents a substance that is created inside the body when a patient takes the branded or generic versions of their drug, therefor taking generics creates a patent violation in the patient's body! This is just a (cheap) way of of trying to outlaw generics.

            So it looks to me like the legal team of a corporation is now required to become a profit center, rather than just provide protection for company interests. With rising drug costs far outpacing inflation AND the great profit increases for most drug companies, it seems like the legal teams and the multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns are paying off.
    • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AdamKG (1004604) <slashdot@NOSPam.adamgomaa.com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:03AM (#17324262) Homepage
      "Current orthodoxy claims patents encourage innovation, by allowing developers to enjoy profitable monopolies on their inventions which in turn inspire them to create new inventions" - this is still true.
      Whether it is true or not misses the point. The question is not whether patents make Pharma stocks comfortable investments- that is never what a patent should be based on. Rather, the Government should only grant patents when they - as the constitution explicitly says- promote progress. The question we need to be asking, then, is "would a lack of patents lead to pharmaceutical companies investing less in research, or would it spur them to invest even more, so they could stay a step ahead of the competition without the 15-20 year lead of patents?" I don't see nearly enough people asking that question.

      Without patents, patent-heavy fields like pharmaceutical research fall into cutthroat, razor-thin-margin price wars - but that is not a bad thing. In fact, it's not too different than desktop computers, where we've seen manufacturers keep up with Moore's law for a remarkable amount of time, even while having to struggle to break even on almost every product. Again, patents do not exist to provide peace of mind to investors; they exist only to promote progress. If ending them, and forcing pharmaceuticals to (*gasp*) innovate to stay in business (and even having a few go out of business when they fail to!) is the best way to promote progress, than that is exactly what we should do.

      Of course, All of that only makes sense if Congress is competent and not corrupt... so much for that then.
      • Re:Exaggeration (Score:5, Insightful)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:32AM (#17324544) Journal
        Without patents, patent-heavy fields like pharmaceutical research fall into cutthroat, razor-thin-margin price wars - but that is not a bad thing.

        Well, cutthroat razor-thin margins generally aren't bad, but it's hard to imagine how it would be profitable to sink billions of dollars and 20 years into developing a drug, when someone can compete with you when they're already billions of dollars and 20 years ahead, merely by using your published formula.

        The article's point was not that "patents" are bad, but that allowing an additional patent for an incremental upgrade is bad.

        In fact, it's not too different than desktop computers, where we've seen manufacturers keep up with Moore's law for a remarkable amount of time, even while having to struggle to break even on almost every product.

        Well, yes and no. It's the same in that the driving force behind Moore's law, the processors, are patented (rendering your example moot). It's different in that, even if you could legally copy the processor design, you'd have to put up a huge amount of capital (though you wouldn't need to do the research, that's a much smaller fraction of costs of bringing to market).

        Again, patents do not exist to provide peace of mind to investors; they exist only to promote progress. If ending them, and forcing pharmaceuticals to (*gasp*) innovate to stay in business (and even having a few go out of business when they fail to!) is the best way to promote progress, than that is exactly what we should do.

        Pharmas do innovate! And they do fail sometimes, even with patents. You seem to think that just because they don't have to struggle as much once they have a patent, they're not competing. That ignores the research competition they have to go through to find patentable medicines. Whenever someone tells me that a pharma is earning monopoly profits for doing nothing because they have a patent, I almost have to ask what they think of veterans drawing a pension. "Oh, okay, great, big deal, you fought some war a while back. What are you doing for us *now*? Why should we pay you this pension *now*?"

        Just to be clear, I don't want to come across as a pro-patent extremist. My point is that the issue is a lot more complicated than people on either side give it credit for.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178)
      The problem isn't so much the existence of patents but rather the frivolous "inventions" that are currently being patented. There needs to be a higher bar for patent acceptance. If somebody invents something truely unique (of the kind which doesn't combine currently available material in a straightforward way), it should be patentable.

      I think we should shift more to a system which doesn't reward invention so much as it rewards the amount of effort that went into inventing it.

      Perhaps some sort of "limited" p
    • Re:Exaggeration (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:07AM (#17324288) Homepage Journal

      It's the current implementation of the "profitable monopoly" that is causing issues.


      There are bound to be these kinds of issues no matter what the implementation of patents is.

      One problem with treating an idea as property is that unlike real propert such as a a farm, it's boundaries cannot be clearly drawn. It would be clearer to draw the boundaries of the patent monopoly around a market -- say erectile dysfunction treatment. However, this would really damage innovation. If it hadn't been for WW1, American aviation would have been set back years by the Wright company's use of their patent for "wing warping" to block the introduction of modern (and very dissimilar) control surfaces by Curtiss. In effect, they were using their patent to gain control of the market for machines capable of controlled flight.

      Drawing the boundaries of an invention narrowly enough to permit competitive inventions means that any patent system that does not destroy competition must encourage some level of risk minimizing "me-too" inventions. The biggest uncertainty is often whether the public actually wants a better mousetrap. Now that the "Blue Pill" is such a runaway hit, erectile dysfunction is an attractive target for drug company investment, even though Viagra is effective,and probably as safe as any equivalently effective drug is likely to be.

      Patents are an artifice. In real property, such as land, exclusive use is needed to enable the owner to attempt to find an efficient use. The same plot of land can't grow wheat, corn, and serve as a parking lot. Ideas aren't like that at all. "Propertizing" ideas makes their use inefficient; it's only done to incent at least some risk taking. You don't have to go so far as saying patents never work to concede that no system of patents works perfectly, or is totally free from perverse incentives.

      The answer is, of course, that we can't rely exclusively upon the private sector to do everything for us. Some people seem to be unable to visualize a middle ground between relying on the private sector for everything, and restricting the private sector so that only the government can get things done. I think that we shouldn't expect the to cure cystic fibrosis when creating a Viagra competitor is so much easier, safer, and profitable. On the other hand it is doubtful that Viagra would have become available at all if it were not for the private sector, because it was not effective at all for its intended functions: treating angina and hypertension.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mysticgoat (582871) *

        It's the current implementation of the "profitable monopoly" that is causing issues.

        There are bound to be these kinds of issues no matter what the implementation of patents is.

        One problem with treating an idea as property is that unlike real propert such as a a farm, it's boundaries cannot be clearly drawn.

        [later] Patents are an artifice.

        Reading your post brings this idea to mind: What if we were to treat patents with a tool similar to that which we use to treat the other great artifice of our tim

  • More like: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by giorgiofr (887762)
    Ridiculously overeaching regulation of this specific market kill innovation. With the kind of laws regulating this industry, you wouldn't even be able to research *aspirin* today, let alone have it approved or sold.
    • by giorgiofr (887762)
      Uhm that'd be "overreaching" and "kills". So much for posting after lunch while I'm half asleep.
    • I say that we should just scrap the whole thing and go back to the days of the traveling snake-oil salesmen. God knows that was much better for consumers.

      And while I understand that the urge to deteriorate into meaningless hyperbole is nearly irresistible when writing a two sentence post, let's not lose touch with reality. Every year drugs with amazing complexity are trialled and approved. Say what you want about drug companies, but advances in the pharmaceutical industry are just as--if not more--impressiv
      • Even now--with this rigorous testing--we find that some drugs should never have been sold. Vioxx comes to mind. These episodes are famous because they're so rare and they shake consumer confidence in the pharma industry. Imagine what it would be like if that were a weekly or monthly occurrence

        Is it really that rare? Celebrex, which is similar to Vioxx, is still on the market. And though few drugs kill you quickly, many drugs poison you slowly, and your death, though blamed on the disese, may have been agg

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by shaneh0 (624603)
          If it wasn't rare you wouldn't remember it when it happens.

          And as for Celebrex, it's only similar to Vioxx in that they're both Cox-2 inhibitors. Their pharmacology is very different. Which actually illustrates my point: these things are tough and we need solid regulation on the industry.

          "At least snake oil, though useless, didn't kill people."

          You do realize that 'snake oil' isn't actually a real thing? To say that whatever concoction being peddled on any given day wasn't lethal is a pure guess on your part
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by westlake (615356)
          At least snake oil, though useless, didn't kill people.

          quacks kill.

          the arsenic wafer said to relieve "female discomforts."

          and sometimes fed, one suspects, to the male who was responsible for same.

          the typical patent drug of the 1890s was a potent mix of alcohol and opium. given in stiff doses to both infants and elders.

      • by Sangui5 (12317)

        Even now--with this rigorous testing--we find that some drugs should never have been sold. Vioxx comes to mind.

        And what is so bad about Vioxx? If you are allergic to sulfa, need to avoid gastrointestinal side-effects, and are at a low risk for heart disease anyway, Vioxx is an excellent choice of drug (Celebrex has a sulfa group, NSAIDs and aspirin cause stomach bleeding). Especially if you are going to be taking it for a medium term (12 months or less) there is little risk. The studies that show statistically significant increases in adverse cardiovascular events show them for long-term high-dose use; many of

      • by giorgiofr (887762)
        It is not *useless*, however a private industry would be faster, better and cheaper. Everything else you say it's true, but has no relevance in the contest of a choice between gov't-run agencies and private enterprises.
        • by shaneh0 (624603) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @11:50AM (#17325334)
          "a private industry would be faster, better and cheaper."

          Well, that's a nice guess but that's about it.

          I'm no fan of bureaucracy, but the FDA isn't your average government agency. It's completely independent. And the idea that a "private industry" could constrain time and cost and still produce "better" results is amusing to me.

          What, exactly, would you expect to be different? The drug companies run the trials. It's always been that way. All the FDA does is provide oversight, review and approval.

          And not to be a prick but it's a little obvious that you under-thought this. How would a "faster" trial period possibly produce "better" results? If you're producing a drug that would be taken for extended periods of time, how would you possibly know what to expect if you don't run long-term trials?

          A private enterprise has only one constituency: its shareholders. Sometimes the best interests of shareholders and the public at large align, but not always, and I wouldn't feel comfortable even saying "often." I don't care if your liberal or conservative, there are some things that a government just does better. And this is one.

          Those that believe in the magical powers of the free-market to regulate itself need only look at all of human history prior to the last 75 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by westlake (615356)
      With the kind of laws regulating this industry, you wouldn't even be able to research *aspirin* today, let alone have it approved or sold.

      with deeper and more formal research and testing. we might not have had to wait 100 years to learn that aspirin

      (a) is not appropriate for everyone and

      (b) that aspirin has other, very significant, medical uses than as a mild painkiller.

      in the nineteenth century you could sell anything over-the-counter.

      that it was addictive and dangerous didn't matter. that it was more

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Guppy06 (410832)
      "With the kind of laws regulating this industry, you wouldn't even be able to research *aspirin* today, let alone have it approved or sold."

      "Aspirin" itself would likely still be a trademarked term in the United States had we not declared war on the country of origin. World War I and the ensuing revocation of Bayer's IP in the US was a boon to the generic drug industry.
  • Seems to me that the problems with drug patents are similar to the problems we see with software patents. The guys who are approving/disapproving the patents don't know anything about the field to which the patent applies, and so make poor judges of whether or not a new patent is sufficiently innovative to deserve approval.

    If you substantially increased the fee for patent applications then you could hire real experts to review new patents, and that might help solve some of these problems. Of course, many
    • by simm1701 (835424) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:35AM (#17324004)
      Try the japanese system - you get two years to exploit an idea with protection from so that no one else can use your idea in that time.

      At the end of those two years, if you are actively exploiting the idea in a business you can get another 1 year of protection and thats it

      The principal is that if a 3 year head start on your own idea isnt enough to get you established in the market then you should probably let someone else do it anyway rather than stifle future innovation

      (companies also have to keep their R&D far more secure under this system and they only usually patent just prior to launching to market - this in turns requires a much faster and streamlined patent application system)
      • by s20451 (410424)
        companies also have to keep their R&D far more secure under this system

        So, no free exchange of information under this system? Is that better?
        • by simm1701 (835424)
          until the point of patenting most companies keep their info secure - this system means that they patent at the point of release. Just the elvel of security changes.

          The alternative is to patent, sit on it for a while, scalp any other company that wants to do similar for license fees, maybe eventually sell or use the patent yourself... maybe
      • by ebbe11 (121118)
        No one can get a drug to market in 3 years. There is nowhere near enough time to determine whether it actually works let alone find out if it has any harmful side effects.
        • You wouldn't have to patent before testing, just keep your information incredible secrete. Once the drug had been tested and found to work, the patent could be filed and the produced released. Come on, this isn't rocket science :)
    • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:37AM (#17324020)
      To reject any application that can't explain in plain english and 2 sentences (120 words) or less why it is unique and deserving of a patent.

      Why this criteria? Because if you have to draw comparisons with other items and state that this application improves incrementally over items 1-n, then it's not innovative and not deserving. Take the pet rock for instance (however trivial and droll):

              It's a polished rock with googly eyes, marketed as a "pet". There is nothing like it in existance today.

      I'm still not sure it should have a patent, but at least you can explain it in 2 sentences or less, including the all important "unlike anything else" clause. (whether that was true or not is a different issue)

      As for funding the patent process:

      Make patents holders pay a percentage take to the PTO, paid at least yearly, with a minimum fee of the application itself, increasing by some scale over the years. The older they get, the more expensive they get. Failure to pay on time means it becomes public domain.

      I believe such an approach solves several issues, while still allowing invidividuals to profit from their work without undue hardships.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Clowning (465722)
      Here is one proposal that is quickly gaining much support.

      http://dotank.nyls.edu/communitypatent/ [nyls.edu]
  • That the patent department is stupid and cannot judge wether a patent is "a substantial technical improvement" as required by law. Not a problem with the patent system itself.

    Perhaps peer review would prevent these issues. Give everybody who requested a patent last year the chance to review current patents and accept them or not. If not, they need to explain why and an agreement needs to be found by e.g. removing some claims. Something like this might just work.
  • Something different? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by itlurksbeneath (952654) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:11AM (#17323872) Journal

    I realize that making drugs (or any other product, for that matter) requires research and testing, etc., and manufacturers need to recoup that money spent. Plus, profits from a block-buster drug go into funding expensive research on drugs that can only target a very small portion of the population. However, making tiny changes to an existing drug and calling it "new" sucks, unless the change actually has an effect on how the drug works or reduces a side-effect.

    Having said all that, maybe there should be a patent peer review board (or, in government speak, the PPRB) that reviews the validity of a patent request. Maybe patents should be harder to get and you should really have to prove your stuff is unique. After some of the vague, hand-waving tech patents, I've read, it's obvious that the guys in the government reviewing these things don't have a clue.

    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:15AM (#17324374)
      > I realize that making drugs (or any other product, for that matter) requires research and testing, etc., and manufacturers need to recoup that money spent. Plus, profits from a block-buster drug go into funding expensive research on drugs that can only target a very small portion of the population.

      Actually (according to various news outlets over the past several years), these companies spend ten dollars on marketing for every dollar they spend on research.
  • by Cutie Pi (588366) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:11AM (#17323874)
    One example is Claritin vs. Clarinex. (Both are anti-histamines that don't cause drowsiness in most people). Claritin was a cash cow for Schering-Plough whose patent expired a few years ago. It used to be prescription-only and the cost used was around $1 a pill. Now you can buy 300-ct bottles over-the-counter at CostCo for ~ $10.00.

    Enter Clarinex, which Schering claims is certified for both indoor and outdoor allergies. Once again, it's a prescription-only medication with high prices. The punch line: Clarinex is exactly the same drug as Claritin after Claritin passes through your liver once. There are tons of examples like this, where drug companies change the chemical formulation only slightly, usually in inactive places of the molecule (i.e. the "business end" that interacts with the target enzymes is unchanged). Why new formulations like this are granted patents is beyond me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ForestGrump (644805)
      intwesting. if i had mod points still (i think expired 2 or 3 days ago) I'd mod you up. That, and cause you're such a cutie pi.
    • by ScentCone (795499)
      Clarinex is exactly the same drug as Claritin after Claritin passes through your liver once.

      So, other than not being the same, it's the same? Regardless... how does your example back up the notion that the people who invest the up-front millions in new drugs should have less protection (in the form of a patent)? How will reducing their ability to recoup their investment cause them to produce more innovative drugs? Big innovation (as opposed to incremental changes in products) costs more money. Chipping a
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MindStalker (22827)
        You also have to consider the fact that the patents are an encouragement to sit on a drug that has already been developed and wait till the patent expires before releasing newer potentially better versions. The newer versions would come out faster and more often if the patent didn't last as long. Either way arguing that INCREASING monopoly powers is a good thing economically is silly.
    • The organization Doctors Without Borders [msf.org] experience first hand the effects of the patent system in third world countries.

      For example, in a recent press release [accessmed-msf.org] they write:

      The case of AIDS illustrates the trend. While fierce generic competition has helped prices for first-line AIDS drug regimen to fall by 99% from $10,000 to roughly $130 per patient per year since 2000, prices for second-line drugs - which patients need as resistance develops naturally - remain high due to increased patent barriers in key generics producing countries like India.
      By allowing the pharmaceutical companies to keep their prices artificially high, the patent system kills people every day, particularly in third world countries. And it's completely unnecessary.

      The standard argument for allowing the pharma companies to charge whatever they want for patented drugs, is that they spend the excess revenues on research for new drugs. But that is not true.

      We can look at the numbers for Novartis [novartis.com], Pfizer [pfizer.com] or AstraZeneca [astrazeneca.com].

      They all spend around 15% of their revenues on research. The number is typical for the industry. The other 85% go to other things, according to their own figures. More than half their revenues are spent on marketing an profits.

      So there are clearly better ways to finance drug research than to hand out patent monopolies to the big pharma companies, and hope that they will spend the money they make on research. Because clearly, they don't.

      The Swedish Pirate Party has one proposal for an alternative system [piratpartiet.se]. Many others have suggested other alternatives.

      But at least it is time for us to start discussing the problem in earnest. Today's situation is expensive, wasteful and completely immoral. There must be a better way.

      • You know, the flip side of that arguement is that the patent system is actually protecting the value of the drugs. If more people with AIDS are given the new and more effective drugs, the HIV virus will adapt more quickly, rendering the current drugs less effective.

        Granted, that may seem offensive to some people because its basically saying that the value of human life isn't universal. I'm not actually taking this position, just playing devil's advocate here.

        Really, AIDS drugs are a poor example because non
      • by jbeaupre (752124)
        All fine and good. Let's be clear: pharmaceutical companies are not altruistic entities. They are not an arm of public policy. They are companies in it for the profit. If they are off researching another boner pill, so be it. Just like millions of other companies not involved in researching drugs for the 3rd world. You might as well insist that the company that makes Chia Pet develop an HIV vaccine. Hey, it's a biotech firm, right? So what's stopping you from starting your own pharmaceutical company
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:11AM (#17324334)
      > One example is Claritin vs. Clarinex. (Both are anti-histamines that don't cause drowsiness in most people). Claritin was a cash cow for Schering-Plough whose patent expired a few years ago. It used to be prescription-only and the cost used was around $1 a pill. Now you can buy 300-ct bottles over-the-counter at CostCo for ~ $10.00.

      > Enter Clarinex, which Schering claims is certified for both indoor and outdoor allergies. Once again, it's a prescription-only medication with high prices. The punch line: Clarinex is exactly the same drug as Claritin after Claritin passes through your liver once.

      And even if Clarinex were better, they'd have no reason to release it until the Claritin patent expired. In fact, they'd have good reason not to release it.
    • by blakestah (91866)
      When a generic is on the market for three cents a pill, and a trademarked patented new drug is $1 a pill, but does the same thing, why is the consumer buying the trademarked patented drug?

      Any why is that viewed as a problem with the patent system?
      • by jbeaupre (752124)
        You've hit what this whole debate is about. The article is about drug companies developing minor modifications to existing drugs and gathering patent protection for them. So what? The older drugs, which work nearly as well (and sometimes better) are cheaper. But people assume the latest and greatest is better and are prepared to pay more. Why? Marketing! The real issue isn't patents, it's folks not making rational health care decisions.
    • by joshetc (955226)
      Wtf wherever I can purchase Claritin (costco included) I can only find boxes (max usually 60 count) for ~$30 what the hell CostCo do you go to to find them that cheap??
  • by PingSpike (947548) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:13AM (#17323886)
    If the drug companies can get away with sticking a capital letter on the end of an existing drug while changing its dosage to get a new patent, thats certainly an issue with the patent system. But its only one element in a perfect storm in this case. If consumers weren't so brand horny, and were more cost oriented when buying their drugs then these drugs wouldn't even sell. Few of them offer any signifigant benefit, and I'd argue none have any benefits worth the extra cost. But consumers see that 'D' or some other moniker advertised and assume thats the new one with less side effects that they need to demand from their doctor while asking for antibiotics to treat their viral infections. For health care providers part though, its their job to recommend drugs to their patients...and since a lot of them seem to be getting a kickback from the drug companies, they don't always make the the correct decisions.

    My company offers a generous healthcare plan for this day and age. But they ask all of us to do our best to keep costs down. I can't tell you the number of times I requested a generic from my awful dermatologist when I didn't even know one existed, only to find out that it did...and wasn't the automatic first choice! Most people aren't concerned with those costs since the insurance pays for it...but we've seen what that attitude has caused, insurance is more expensive and less people have it.

    I personally don't think HSA and the like are the solution. But I can understand why they are being tried. Consumers need to be more proactive about doing their part to keep insurance costs down.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:23AM (#17323940) Homepage
    Many of these "newer drugs" are simply older drugs with some manipulation...patented manipulation.

    Frankly, I avoid the use of drugs whenever and wherever possible. I find that addressing the cause rather than the symptoms is a better approach -- at least for simple stuff. I'm not a medical professional, but I (and many other slashdotters I have noticed) find that better health can be had by eliminating stuff from the body rather than by adding foreign substances.

    People often have some weird ideas when it comes to medicines. TV commercials don't help much when they draw diagrams of something taken in the mouth somehow routing around the digestive tract and directly to the troubled area. The only drugs I can think of off he top of my head that behave that way are topical cremes and ointments and suppositories. Beyond that, people seem to expect often magical properties from "modern medicine." It ain't happening.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by swelke (252267)
      You forget sulfa drugs. They're concentrated in the urine. If you have a bladder infection, those work wonders (and stink like the devil).
  • by bsmoor01 (150458) <seth@bee[ ]org ['re.' in gap]> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:26AM (#17323960)
    From TFA: "the ability of drug manufacturers to easily obtain patents for minor changes to products, or to receive patent exclusivity for new uses of existing products, have reduced incentives to develop new drugs."

    Sounds to me like its the ability to get a patent on something that's essentially already out there in the market that is stifling innovation. This sounds a lot, to me at least, like the general distaste for 'junk patents' in the software/computer industry. Perhaps if we start requiring inventions to be unique before we allow patents on them, we'll actually start encouraging bolder, newer ideas again?
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:29AM (#17323978) Homepage
    ...is that profits are much lower for drug products, such as vaccines and antibiotics that are extremely effective and "cure" in a small number of doses, than for drugs products that merely help, or palliate.

    The invisible hand of the marketplace skews development toward drugs that must be taken forever, such as blood pressure medication, or cholesterol lowering medication, or anti-depressives and so forth. These drugs are godsends if you need them, but the fact remains that drugs that actually save lives, with a small number of doses, are less profitable than drugs that merely improve or prolong them, and need to be taken continuously and repeatedly forever.

    It is this warped incentive that needs to be fixed.

    The antibiotics we have are losing effectiveness. Hospital infections are becoming more and more dangerous. My generation is probably going to be the only generation in human history to live its life mostly free of the mortal fear of dying from bacterial infection. There are virtually no new antibiotics in development.
    • It is this warped incentive that needs to be fixed.

      It is easy to point a finger at some issue like you describe, anybody can do that. But the question is HOW. A drug company is first and foremost a commercial enterprise. It would be silly for such an organization to pursue development of drugs like antibiotics and vaccines that bring all of the long and expensive developmnet and testing process with them, along with the legal liabilities, and then return no money.

      Unltimately a lot of this situation is due t
    • by arevos (659374)

      The antibiotics we have are losing effectiveness. Hospital infections are becoming more and more dangerous. My generation is probably going to be the only generation in human history to live its life mostly free of the mortal fear of dying from bacterial infection. There are virtually no new antibiotics in development.

      It's true that anti-biotic resistant bacteria are one of the greatest modern threats to the human species. However, it's unlikely that this generation will be the last generation with the capability to effectively combat most bacterial infections. Bacteria adapt frighteningly fast to new threats, and in terms of evolutionary adaptability, they're top of their game; but humanity simply isn't playing by the same rules any more. Bacteria combat anti-biotics and immune system defences via an evolutionary feed

    • by RexRhino (769423) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @01:21PM (#17326402)
      The invisible hand of the marketplace skews development toward drugs that must be taken forever, such as blood pressure medication, or cholesterol lowering medication, or anti-depressives and so forth.

      No, the quite visible hand of the government skews the development towards drugs that must be taken forever. When it costs nearly a billion dollars to get a drug approved by the FDA, when the liability for approved drugs can stretch into the multiple billions, and when only huge pharma companies are the ones able to meet the astronomical costs imposed by government regulation and insane liability requirements, this kind of thing is inevitable. The barriers of entry to the market are held so artificially high by obscene regulation, that there is just no way anyone can make a profit on developing cheap drugs.

      The free market had no problem producing low-profit drugs, such as vaccines and antibiotics, back when there were tens of thousands of independent research companies, and the barrier to the market was extremely small. (Antibiotics, to give an example, would NOT be approved as a class of drugs under todays regulatory scheme. They are grandfathered in.)

      The FDA was created under the Pure Food and Drug Act... it's purpose was to make sure that the product that companies were selling were the product that they said they were selling. It was supposed to stop people from outright lying about the substances that put into drugs, it wasn't supposed to evaluate and micromanage every single detail of drug development. It was supposed to make sure when a company sold a bottle of aspirin, that it was in fact aspirin and not sugar pills... it wasn't supposed to evaluate the effectivness and safety of the aspirin - that was left to the medical community to evaluate and decide for themselves.

      The FDA is no longer making us safe... its job now is to make drug development as expensive as possible so that only a handful of companies can afford to develop drugs. Big Pharma is the direct result of Big Government. If you create regulations that make drug development contigent on have vast pools of capital, then only those with vast pools of capital, and who can agressively secure more capital, can survive in the market place.
  • by rs232 (849320) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:30AM (#17323980)
    The pharmaceutical industry is where the software industry would be if it wasn't for the existence of Open Source. That the closed source companies are pushing for a US style patent regime in Europe and elsewhere is a given. What with patented GM crops we see farmers being sued in the US for reusing GM seeds grown from their own crops. Something practiced for centuries.

    It's also difficult to avoid infringing some patent as the GM crops cross-fertilise with plants in the next field. The resultant seed being also covered by the same patent. The GM companies would of course have the farmers buying their seed annually from the companies. What next, produce sterile crops and totally outlaw unlicensed seeds.

    As the report says in relation to pharmaceuticals, you can see the same thing in the closed Windows monopoly, little real innovation, "new" software that is differs little from the old and a small number of companies making vast fortunes and lastly it's the consumer that suffers from no real choice.
    • And it is exactly like you described, only without the GM. It takes a lot of time to grow a new cultivar, and without that protection/monopoly there would be no incentive to develop new ones. There is no way one could keep their cultivar secret, as it is the very product the farmer is selling.
      On the other hand, the farmers themselves still have the demand for better/different cultivars, so abolishing these breeders rights will not undermine the driving force of the breeders market, and the traditional breed
  • when an industry is the 3rd most profitable, aren't you justified in charging your consumers out the ass for your product, and then say "oh, our R&D is really expensive"

    wait... that doesn't sound very moral to me
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I work for one of those major (top 3) drug companies. It always irritates me when people like you make comments about subjects you know nothing about. I tell you what is not fair... 1) Our company spends a BILLION dollars developing a new drug and jumping through all the regulatory hoops required of us. 2) Years are spent doing extensive testing of the product to get FDA approval. 3) The drug significantly reduces the chance of DEATH for those taking it. 4) We get sued for a $300 Million dollars when a sma
  • According to the report, existing patent law allows drug companies to patent, and make substantial profits off of, "new" drugs which differ little from existing medicines. Given high profit margins on very minor innovations, the report argues that drug companies have little incentive to produce innovative new drugs.


    I can think of one example in the software industry where this easily applies.
  • by mcwop (31034) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:57AM (#17324182) Homepage
    I for one am super thankful for me-too drugs. I have been through 4 iterations of basically the "same" drug for my condition. The first one caused a lot of awful side effects, and stopped working for me after awhile. The next few variations of the same thing (5-aminosalicyclic acid (5-ASA) were more effective and had no side effects. I was diagnosed with my condition about 14 years ago, and these little innovations have made all the difference.
  • by jeblucas (560748) <jeblucas.gmail@com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:58AM (#17324200) Homepage Journal
    GAO Reports can be shipped to you for free if you request them (and you are a US resident). The report referred to in this article is GAO-07-49. Request a paper copy here [gao.gov]. If you want to read the PDF, you can click here [gao.gov] The GAO's a pretty amazing resource. I have a feed of their recent reports on my aggregator, they have a monthly top 10 [gao.gov], etc.

    GAO Junkie

  • Many moons ago I worked for a drug company [lundbeck.com] for ten months. So let me explain how the process works:
    • A drug company gets an idea for a new drug. They do some initial tests and take out the patent. They have to patent early because it is impossible to keep things secret once the drug goes into trials.
    • At first the drug is tested on animals. However, as was discovered in Great Britain [www.hon.ch], that is no insurance that it will work properly in humans.
    • So the tests on humans are absolutely necessary. They also have
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:12AM (#17324344) Homepage Journal
    You know what the nicest thing about Japanese and German television is compared to American TV? It isn't what you see(TV is pretty dumb the world over), but more of what you don't see. No ads for prescription drugs for starters(no ads for ambulance chasers either, but that is a different story). The reason drug companies patent drugs that vary little from existing drugs is because they can still make money off of them by advertising them both to patients and to doctors. Patients go in and demand the name brand of the drug they saw on TV(which further feeds into the trend of self-diagnosis, but that is another rant) and doctors who are required to get a certain amount of education every few years enroll in drug company sponsored classes. They turn a well meaning law into profit for drug companies.

    If we really want to see new drugs AND get cheaper health care, banning advertisements is a good start.
    • > If we really want to see new drugs AND get cheaper health care, banning advertisements is a good start.

      And it used to be banned in the USA, until "someone" bought enough congressmen to get that reversed.

      (Same with the ambulance chasers that you mentioned in passing.)
    • I disagree, if you want to get cheaper health care and new drugs then simply make it so you don't need a perscription to get drugs. In other words, make it an open market.

      Doctors should be nothing more than a highly recommended consultant. They should not be the gateway to what you are allowed to put inside of your own body. Just about every doctor has the "I went to 6+ years of school, so I know what is good for you" mentality. If they were so god damn sure of themselves they wouldn't need so much insuran
  • Patents and copyright always act as a force to IMPEDE innovation. The problem is that this fact is very counterintuitive. Intellectual property exists for the sole reason of fostering innovation, and on paper it seems like it should do that. Monopoly as motive to create. Sounds logical. But communism looks good on paper too. Unfortunately both communism and IP are total and complete failures, as well as oppressive regimes which crush individual freedom. You can't publish that 30 year old email. You
  • It is certainly believable that drug companies will patent minor changes to drugs to gain more protection, but I don't quite see how that stiffles competition. Consider a drug company that makes a genuinely new drug, labelled A, and patents it. A little while later, they also patent a slight variant on the drug, call it B.

    17 years(?) later, the patent on drug A expires and anyone who wants to can create copies. The patent on the "me too" drugs are still in effect, but does that matter? As long as I on

    • by vidarh (309115)
      Consider the risk for a company that focus on developing a few new drugs and then milk it for decades with minor improvements vs. one that keeps spending money developing completely new drugs regularly.

      The point is that under the current system there's a greater capital return on the former approach, and so the capital is invested in small incremental improvements, and less is available for the groundbreaking (and high risk) research.

  • No surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by the_womble (580291) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:29AM (#17324514) Homepage Journal
    I sued to be an analyst at a fund managemetnt company. I used to look at pharmas (although I was not a sector specialist).

    A few things I noticeded.

    1) Lots of patents cover minor improvements of existing drugs.
    2) Lots new drugs are similar to existing drugs.
    3) Patents are such a wonderfully effective mechanism that regulators (the FDA etc) have to give pharmas additional incentives (such as orphan drug deisgnation) to develop certain drugs.
    4) Patents do more to boost marketing expenditure than R & D expenditure.

    There is also no real evidence of what effect patents have. We know from academic studies that they have little positive impact on semiconductors or software, as for eveything else, we have no idea.
  • There are a lot of scientists who have noted that finding new, safe effective drugs is becoming a lot harder - as the small molecule combinations are becoming exhausted and the large molecule drugs have not achieved success like people had hoped. Increasingly the new drugs that are introduced are relatively small improvements even when they are based on new chemistries.

    Drug patents have existed for over a century, during this period of time there have been great waves of introduction of useful medicines, al
  • It is the conclusion of a former FDA official that pharmaceuticals are in the business of developing treatments - not cures.

    See the difference?

    They milk more out of insurance/consumers by perpetuating the disease.

    It is universally acknowledged that the primary cause for the rise of medical costs is drug patents and the high cost of drugs. While efforts have been attempted to correct this, the pharmaceuticals are firmly infiltrated in government and lobbying such that little progress has been made.

    O

  • Senator Durbin's biggest campaign contributor will be the healthcare industry and his interest in this issue has mysteriously gone away.
  • Random Thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by localman (111171) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @02:52PM (#17327586) Homepage
    What if patents only allowed the bearer to hold the patent as long as it took to cover their R&D costs? So if I come up with a clever idea which I can implement overnight (like one click shopping) I get basically no protection. But if I spend a million dollars working out a flying car or a new cancer drug, I am covered by the patent until I recoup my losses, then it's fair game. It could be "recoup losses + 10% too" or something.

    Just thinking out loud :)

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