Inmates Running the Asylum

In what might the most extreme example of Stockholm Syndrome ever, USPTO chief Andrei Iancu has declared that patents are in no way slowing the emergence of new Covid-19 treatments.

Less than a week later, major pharma manufacturers were sued for ……… wait for it ……… patent infringement:

A week or so ago, the head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, Andrei Iancu, who has been an extreme patent maximalist over the years, insisted that there was simply no evidence that patents hold back COVID treatments. This is a debate we’ve been having over the past few months. We’ve seen some aggressive actions by patent holders, and the usual crew of patent system supporters claiming, without evidence that no one would create a vaccine without much longer patent terms.

Iancu was questioned about how patents might hold back life-saving innovation and he brushed it off like this was a crazy question:


Iancu also shot down the idea that patents might be used to limit access to a vaccine:


But just to highlight how ridiculous Iancu’s statements were, just days later, Pfizer, Regeneron, and BioNTech — all working on COVID treatments (including the antibody cocktail that President Trump took from Regeneron) — were all sued for patent infringement for their COVID treatments.


And then to make an even stronger point, pharma company Moderna — which had been facing a ton of questions about how its patents might delay COVID-19 treatment — has announced that it will voluntarily agree not to enforce the patents during the pandemic.


The key point: even if Iancu pretends otherwise, people actually in the space know that patents can and will get in the way of life-saving innovation, rather than acting as an important incentive.

It’s long past the time we recognized how damaging patents are for innovation in many different industries, including pharma, and having a Patent Office boss who simply denies reality is fundamentally unhelpful and anti-innovation.

As I have noted many times, IP law is at its core public interest law.

As it says in the US Constitution, copyright and patent are created to, “To promote the progress of science and useful arts,” not to reward maniacal rent-seeking, which is what it has become.

Leave a Reply