Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

US Support for a WTO Waiver of COVID-19 Intellectual Property – What Does it Mean?

By Jorge L. Contreras

On May 5, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the U.S. would support a “waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic” currently being discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO). This announcement, representing a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy toward intellectual property, came as a welcome surprise to much of the world, but elicited strong negative responses from the pharmaceutical industry as stock prices of leading vaccine producers sank.

In the short time since the announcement was made, there has been a fair amount of speculation, hyperbole, and misinformation on the topic. In this post, I offer an explanation of what just happened, and my guess as to what its likely effects will be, bearing in mind that the situation is fast-moving and somewhat unpredictable.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver: The Wrong Tool for the Right Goal

By Ana Santos Rutschman and Julia Barnes-Weise

As the toll of COVID-19 continues to increase in many countries in the Global South, there has been a renewed push to address the problem of vaccine scarcity through a waiver of patent rights. Calls for waivers have been recurring throughout the pandemic, from formal proposals introduced in 2020 by some of the larger developing economies (India and South Africa), to op-eds in mainstream media, and editorials in scientific publications, such as Nature. This push gained momentum in early May 2021, just before the meeting of the World Trade Organization’s General Council.

Waiver proposals have attracted the support of prominent names in public health. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, endorsed patent waivers as a tool to address the current vaccine scarcity problem in an article titled Waive Covid Vaccine Patents to Put World on “War Footing.” Others — including, most recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci — have been critical of waiver proposals.

In this piece, we explain the mechanics of patent waivers and argue that waivers alone are the wrong policy tool in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We agree with supporters of the waivers in their ultimate goal — that of scaling up the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, and then distributing them according to more equitable models than the ones adopted thus far. However, we doubt that the particular types of goods at stake here can be easily replicated and produced in substantially larger quantities simply through a waiver of intellectual property rights.

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board Returns to the Supreme Court  

By Gregory Curfman

For the second time in the span of just three years, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is under scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

How the Supreme Court decides this latest PTAB case, United States v. Arthrex, will have important implications for patent law and for administrative law more generally.

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Vial and syringe.

4 Things to Know About Intellectual Property, Patent Pledges, and COVID-19 Vaccines

By Chloe Reichel

High-profile commentators have argued recently that vaccine scarcity needn’t exist. If vaccine manufacturers simply shared their patents with other pharmaceutical companies, supply would quickly ramp up. 

Others have pointed out that numerous bottlenecks exist in the manufacturing process, from the glass vials that hold the vaccine, to the lipids that encase the vaccine’s active ingredient, mRNA.

And even if these bottlenecks didn’t exist, the intellectual property argument may be a straw man.    

In fact, this past October, Moderna made a gesture toward opening access to its intellectual property, by pledging that it would not enforce its patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” That month, Jorge L. Contreras, a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Utah, covered the patent pledge and its potential implications for Bill of Health.

We checked in with Contreras to ask about the implications of Moderna’s patent pledge now that its vaccine has been proven safe and effective. Here are the highlights from the conversation:

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Gavel surrounded by piles of money.

3 Challenges to Patents on Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibodies

By Gregory Curfman

Three new developments — two based on litigation and one based on a federal statute — may have significant effects on pharmaceutical manufacturers’ use of patents to fend off competition and maintain high prices for therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Highly specific monoclonal antibodies have played an increasingly important role as precision therapies for a growing number of diseases, including malignant, cardiovascular, and inflammatory conditions. As therapies derived from research and development, therapeutic monoclonal antibodies may be — and usually are — patented, providing manufacturers with protection from competition and the prospect of high revenues.

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Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

Pharmaceutical Patents on Manufacturing Methods: Groundless or Well-Supported?

By Laura Karas

Are manufacturing method patents — patents not on a pharmaceutical drug itself, but on a method of production of a drug — warranted intellectual property protections, or groundless obstacles to competition?

Patents protect and reward innovation by permitting the patent-holder the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention for a twenty-year period. Pharmaceutical companies have attracted scrutiny, criticism, and legal challenges for amassing large numbers of patents on pharmaceutical drugs, especially high-priced and high revenue-earning drugs.

Here I explore the topic of pharmaceutical patents on methods of production and translate into layman’s terms some thought-provoking recent scholarship by innovation scholars W. Nicholson Price and Arti Rai.

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close up photo of U.S. currency.

When “Pay-for-Delay” Becomes “Delay-Without-Pay”: Humira Antitrust Claims

By Laura Karas

In June 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed state and federal antitrust claims against AbbVie, maker of Humira (adalimumab), for accruing more than 130 patents on the top-selling drug and asserting allegedly unmeritorious patent infringement claims against makers of adalimumab biosimilars. AbbVie then settled the patent infringement litigation by entering into agreements with eight drug makers to allow adalimumab biosimilars to enter the U.S. market in 2023 and the European market in 2018.

In my last post, I discussed the district court’s memorandum opinion finding that “the vast majority” of AbbVie’s conduct was not “objectively baseless petitioning” and was therefore immunized under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. In this post, I explore several problematic aspects of the court’s reasoning for rejecting the claims of pay-for-delay and market allocation.

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Hundred dollar bills rolled up in a pill bottle

AbbVie Wins First Round in Humira Antitrust Lawsuit

By Ryan Knox and Gregory Curfman

Since receiving FDA approval for Humira® (adalimumab) in 2002, AbbVie, the drug’s manufacturer, has filed hundreds of submissions to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for secondary patents – almost half of which were filed after 2014, just two years before the expiration of its core patent.

These patents were largely directed to methods of use and potential formulation changes, but they did not include claims that affect the clinical efficacy of the biologic, which is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis, among other conditions. Instead, the purpose of the secondary patent filings was to assemble a thicket of patents, 132 in all, to prohibit competition from biosimilar companies.

And so far, the strategy has worked. AbbVie remains the sole U.S. manufacturer of the biologic, and has successfully defended its domain: in June 2020, a federal district court judge in Chicago dismissed an antitrust lawsuit against AbbVie.

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Vaccine.

How are COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturers Building Trust in the FDA’s Approval Process?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on October 2, 2020. 

By Rachel SachsJacob S. SherkowLisa Larrimore Ouellette, and Nicholson Price

In recent weeks, a number of articles have reported great concern around the politicization of the approval process for future COVID-19 vaccines. Public trust in public health agencies is arguably at an all-time low. After several missteps, the FDA has been working publicly to shore up public confidence in an approved vaccine once it comes out. But pharmaceutical companies themselves are now also engaging the public themselves in an attempt to build trust in their products. This is an unusual step for, of course, unusual times. What are vaccine developers doing, how should policymakers think about these efforts, and how can we encourage these lines of communication in the future?

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