The entire U.S. patent system needs serious repair, but the most broken thing about it is the way we patent prescription drugs. Federal and state governments spend billions of dollars on basic medical research, and the resulting science winds up informing (at least indirectly) the development of blockbuster pharmaceuticals. But our patent system then grants drug companies the exclusive right to sell their innovations without “generic” competition for years. Big Pharma points out that such patents are necessary because without them it can’t recoup the massive costs of creating new products. Meanwhile, there are some classes of drugs that the world desperately needs—new lines of antibiotics, for example, or treatments for tropical, emerging, and rare diseases—but that the current system, dependent on blockbusters, doesn’t readily produce. The incentives are out of whack.
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