Killer patents

In the computer technology business, we tend to see patents as being bad for developers and business. What we don't realize that the problems we have with Microsoft's bogus patent claims against Linux and Oracle's patent-based attack against Google are nothing compared to the evils that IP patents bring to the pharmacy business.

Take, for example, the assault that the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is now mounting on Abbot Labs. PUBPAT is formally asking the United States Patent and Trademark Office to reexamine eight Abbot patents relating to the critical HIV/AIDS drug Ritonavir, aka Norvir.

Ritonavir, a protease inhibitor, was one of the early HIV/AID antiviral drugs. Today, as HIV has grown tougher, Ritonavir is now more widely used to enhance the efficacy of other protease inhibitors in AIDs drug cocktails. In this role, it's still a critical HIV/AIDS drug.

Thanks to patents, it's also a lot more expensive than it should be. The example that PUBPAT cites, which tells you all you need to know, is that back in "December 2003, Abbott raised the price of its Norvir brand version of Ritonavir from $1.71 a day to $8.57 a day."

After five years of fighting in the courts, Abbot was forced to back off on the grounds that it was acting as a monopoly.

The price on the drug is still too high for some patients. Indeed, Thailand has elected to issue a license for generic versions of some HIV/AID drugs on the grounds that the health of its citizens came before failing to pay the usurious fees.

PUBPAT is arguing that previously unforeseen prior art proves that the Ritonavir patents should not have been granted. In a statement, Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's executive director, said, "Today over 30 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS, including more than one million Americans. Abbott is using these eight patents to prevent anyone else from offering Ritonavir to HIV/AIDS patients in the United States. Since the patents are undeserved, they are illegal barriers to the medical treatment that American HIV and AIDS patients need and deserve."

I couldn't say it better myself. I get that the Big Pharma drug companies need serious money to do research. But I'm also capable of seeing that patents like these do more to inhibit progress and fair pricing than they serve any useful purpose. In the meantime, peoplein third-world countries still die because they can't afford such drugs. And in this country, people slide into bankruptcy trying to pay for unreasonably high-priced drugs.

The problems we have with patents in computing technology don't amount to a hill of beans compared to the trouble and costs that patents cause to everyone who uses medicine.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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