Intellectual Property Chairman Leahy And Ranking Member Tillis Ask Patent Office To Address Soaring Drug Prices

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Sept. 9, 2021) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, along with Ranking Member Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Thursday asked the Patent Office to address an issue that is a significant cause of soaring drug prices for Vermonters and all Americans. 

In a letter to the Patent Office, Leahy, joined by Tillis, explains that drug companies sometimes try to artificially extend their monopolies on existing drugs by seeking a new patent for slight modifications of the drug, claiming to the Patent Office that these minor modifications are “inventions.”  However, such companies then turn around and submit conflicting filings to other government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that the modified drug they are seeking a new patent on is exactly the same as the earlier drug, as a way to secure approval faster.  The senators note that these companies try to have it both ways: artificially extending their monopolies over drugs by securing patents for supposed innovations to it, while ensuring speedy access to the market by claiming that these innovations do not change the drug in any way.  And as a result of these ploys, Vermonters and other Americans who depend upon these drugs are stuck paying ever-increasing prices.  

Leahy believes that Americans would be surprised to know that patent applicants are not currently required to disclose to the Patent Office the content of other related filings that they make with other agencies.  This prevents the Patent Office from assessing the veracity and consistency of applicants’ filings with federal agencies.  In their letter, Leahy and Tillis ask the Patent Office to address this by adopting a rule requiring companies to disclose statements they make to other federal agencies. 

As the senators wrote in the letter sent today, these sorts of conflicting statements “should be cause for rejecting the application and, when made knowingly and with bad intent, potentially other sanctions.”  Leahy believes it is long past time to address the soaring cost of drugs that Americans depend upon, and this is an important step toward that goal.

Read the full letter here.

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