The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has partnered with the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to address the high cost of prescription drugs. While the FDA possesses the authority to approve generic, lower cost drugs, the USPTO has an important and symbiotic role in bringing affordable drugs to market by blocking anti-competitive patent extensions. FDA-USPTO collaboration has gained congressional support and is the subject of key pieces of new legislation.
As you read this, you’re most likely using a phone or laptop that carries a few patents. A patent is awarded to a person or company in order to protect their intellectual property. Protection of intellectual property rests on the idea that one should be compensated for the time and effort required to produce the patented medium, while others should not be able to profit from the work of another. The patents awarded to your phone or laptop manufacturer allow them recoup research and development expenses and remain competitive against competition. However, the patent system can be abused through patent evergreening and patent thicketing. Evergreening is the practice of obtaining a secondary patent on a slightly modified version of the original patented medium. Thicketing protects the patented medium by creating a web of overlapping or interdependent patents. Recent legislation aims to empower the FDA to decline patent extensions when the slightly modified version of a drug does not yield a clinical benefit.