Patents: an obstacle to research?

© Justin Hession/Keystone
The pharmaceutical industry constantly claims that patents guarantee innovation. However, since the 1990s, the number of new molecules approved by the medicines agencies has continued to decrease, while expenditure on R&D has more than tripled.

Worse still, several independent studies have shown that out of 10 new drugs put on the market every year, almost two-thirds do not present any added therapeutic value, and are sometimes even less effective than those already being marketed.

In order to secure profits and gain market share, the pharmaceutical companies do not hesitate to multiply patents around the same substance, thus prolonging a product’s period of market exclusivity and delaying the competition of generics. This practice, called “evergreening”, is an integral part of the sector’s business model. It threatens access of poor populations to vital drugs, and stifles the whole system of pharmaceutical discovery.