Patents are often accused of providing guaranteed income to private companies and thwarting innovation. Present in all industries, they still help to support innovation, promote investment in research and ensure the continuation of scientific progress.
Patents support innovation
Symbolically speaking, patents constitute an agreement between the company and the state: in exchange for public disclosure, the state grants an inventor the exclusive right to an invention for a limited time, allowing for the manufacture and sale of a product.
In return for this protection established for a period of 20 years, the patent owner publishes the results of the scientific research which led to innovation. The publication of the invention ensures the continuation of scientific progress, each invention building on previous ones. Each new invention is de facto immediately made available to the international research community.
Of course, not everything can be patented: discoveries, ideas, laws of nature, physical phenomena are naturally excluded from the process. The rules are very clear: a patent must be based on an new, non-obvious and useful invention or the improvement of such an invention; it can only relate to a process or a product whose value is recognized. It is granted by a specialized authority such as the European Patent Office (EPO) in Europe or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the United States.
The pharmaceutical industry and the special status of the patent
Unlike other industries, pharmaceutical patents relate to products with particularly long development cycles. On average, a new treatment requires 10-15 years of development, from the early stages of conception to the final approval from the health authorities, namely obtaining the authorization to market.
This innovation process is complex, lengthy and expensive. Only 1 in 10,000 molecules becomes a drug and actually enters the market. It is estimated that the average cost of developing a drug candidate is nearly one billion euros.
Because of these significant investments, patent protection is vital to ensure a return on investment for companies and researchers and thus enable the creation of innovative new drugs.
If a drug patent is granted for 20 years, it effectively protects the commercial exclusivity for a limited period of 8 years. This is due to the fact that drugs require an average of 12 years of research before making it to market.
This short-term protection may discourage some investments in research, an area where the failure rate is already very high. Upon request, manufacturers can obtain an additional certificate that extends the duration of patent protection to 5 years.
Patents improve healthcare
The pharmaceutical industry contributes significantly to the advancement of health. Tremendous therapeutic advances have been achieved in recent decades thanks to successful molecules discovered by the pharmaceutical industry.
Numerous examples illustrate this fact:
Antiulceratives, first with H2 blockers and then with proton pump inhibitors, have almost solved the problem of ulcer disease which was previously treated with symptomatic treatments or heavy – and sometimes mutilating – surgical treatments.
Antiretroviral drugs have transformed what was mostly a fatal disease, HIV infection, into a chronic disease.
Anticholesteremic agents have significantly reduced cardiovascular risk, the leading cause of death in developed countries.
We could also mention vaccines, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, anticancer agents, anticoagulants and countless others…
All these discoveries and these drugs have improved the length and quality of life of millions of patients worldwide. Without patents, these advances would never have seen the light of day.
Pharmaceutical companies in France, Europe and around the world should benefit from strong intellectual property protection to enable them to continue their contributions to scientific and technological advances that improve the quality of life for billions of people.