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U.S. Patent System Needs Major Reform

by Glenn Hess
October 27, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 43

The intellectual property system in the U.S. is “broken” and needs to be overhauled to foster medical breakthroughs and ensure that lifesaving treatments reach patients, according to two academic researchers. At a Capitol Hill briefing, McGill University’s Richard Gold and Duke University’s Robert Cook-Deegan argued that the biotechnology industry’s heavy reliance on patents and aggressive enforcement of IP is stifling innovation. “Our findings suggest that patent holders are not doing a good job of sharing information and biotechnological tools to foster innovation, and government must be prepared to intervene,” Cook-Deegan said. Biotech firms have “fewer and fewer products in their pipelines, and more and more of those products are ‘me too’ drugs, which target diseases for which treatments have already been developed,” Gold noted. Under federal law, universities, small businesses, and nonprofits are allowed to control their inventions and other IP that result from federal funding. But the government retains the right to grant additional licenses if it sees the need. “The fact is, the government has never asserted its right to ‘march in’ or to push for action to achieve practical application of a given invention,” Cook-Deegan said. “And industry knows that.”


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