[Ip-health] 'Evergreening' patents protect big producers

Jockey jockey.kit at gmail.com
Tue Sep 13 03:15:54 PDT 2011

patent laws drive up drug prices, says institute 'Evergreening' patents
protect big producers

The Health Systems Research Institute has urged the Department of
Intellectual Property to amend the Patents Act and application process to
pave the way for greater access to medicines.

Of the 2,034 patents granted during the past decade, 1,960 were categorised
as "evergreening patents", meaning that the patent holders _ typically
large, multinational drug companies _ applied for new patents by making only
minor changes to formulas.

The strategy allows them to keep an existing patent in play for much longer.

Most patent applications ranged from medical use claims, (patents which
cover the way a drug treats a particular ailment), medicinal formulations
for drugs such as tablets, capsules and ointments, and the use and selection
of chemicals or pharmaceutical compounds in drugs, among others, said a
study by the institute's drug system research group.

The study also found that most of the patent holders in Thailand were
German, Swiss, Swedish, French, British or American companies.

Only 0.5% of patent applications were from Thai companies.

"Evergreening patents is a strategy widely used by multinational
pharmaceutical companies to retain profits from popular drugs for as long as
possible," said group researcher Nusaraporn Kessomboon, an academic at Khon
Kaen University 's faculty of pharmaceutical sciences.

"But this affects public access to affordable medicines as well as domestic
research and development.

"The drug market is dominated by only a few patent holders and this has
forced Thais to buy expensive drugs."

Ms Nusaraporn said when an original patent gets close to expiring, many
foreign manufacturers will often claim they had to introduce complex or
speculative derivative products, which are often only minor changes to the
original drugs, in order to produce better results for patients.

Aids drug Atazanavir is one example of an evergreening patent. The original
patent for the drug was granted in 1997.

The drug company sought an extension of its 2005 patent to protect its place
in the HIV/Aids treatment market and then also requested a patent to protect
its formulation in 2008.

If the evergreening patent is granted, it could extend the validity of the
Atazanavir patent to 2028 from 2017, and in the process block attempts by
others to manufacture generic versions, said Ms Nusaraporn.

Usawadee Maleewong, a freelance researcher participating in the study, said
the next phase of research would look into the impact of evergreening
patents on people of various economic means by studying the top 100 kinds of
pharmaceuticals, such as cholesterol blockers, glucosamine, diabetes, heart
disease and Aids drugs, for example.

The study is expected to be completed by January 2012, she said.

Ms Usawadee said her group planned to submit the results to the Department
of Intellectual Property to seek ways of protecting Thais from big
companies' exploitation of evergreen patents.

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