Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Are the Costs and Benefits of Patents on Prescription Drugs?

On January 23, the Wall Street Journal hosted an interesting debate between Josh Bloom, Phd, of the American Council on Science and Health, and Dr. Else Torreele of the Open Society Foundation. (The link is here, and was free when I last checked. If it disappears behind a wall, the citation is: Josh Bloom & Els Torreele, “Should patents on innovation be extended to encourage innovation?” Wall Street Journal, 1/23/2012.)

Dr. Bloom makes a classical case for patent protection as an effective legal mechanism to incentivize pharmaceutical R&D. And he goes a step further, proposing that more innovative medicines be awarded longer patent protection and less innovative ones shorter patent protection. (It’s an idea with which I’ve noodled, but never figured out how to define the dividing line.)

Dr. Torreele asserts that patents do not prompt innovation, and that the profit motive leads to misdirection of research in favor of profitable markets, thereby neglecting diseases of the developing world.

I vote for Dr. Bloom’s analysis. Read my entire column at Forbes.com: the Apothecary.

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