The Pharma Patent Paradox: How Pharma Companies Use Patents to Block Competition

Richard A Meyer
3 min readSep 22

The pharmaceutical industry plays a pivotal role in healthcare, continuously developing life-saving drugs and treatments that improve the quality of life for countless individuals worldwide. However, it’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies wield significant influence, and the patent system has often been a double-edged sword in their hands. While patents serve as essential incentives for innovation, they are also employed to extend market monopolies and thwart competition.

The Patent System: A Catalyst for Innovation

The patent system was established to encourage innovation by granting inventors exclusive rights to their inventions for a limited period, usually 20 years. In the pharmaceutical sector, patents are pivotal in promoting research and development (R&D) efforts. They provide companies with the financial incentives to invest vast amounts of capital and time into discovering and developing new drugs, often with significant risks and uncertainties.

However, while patents are meant to stimulate innovation, they can also hinder it. Here’s how pharmaceutical companies use patents to block competition:

  1. Evergreening Patents: Pharmaceutical companies frequently file additional patents for minor modifications to existing drugs, such as new formulations or delivery methods. These “evergreening” patents extend their monopoly periods, delaying the entry of generic alternatives into the market. This practice can significantly increase drug prices, harming patients and healthcare systems.
  2. Litigation and Settlements: Pharma companies may engage in protracted legal battles with generic manufacturers to protect their patents. These legal battles can be costly and time-consuming, further delaying the availability of more affordable generic drugs. Sometimes, these lawsuits end with “pay-for-delay” settlements, where the branded drug company pays the generic manufacturer to delay market entry.
  3. Patent Thickets: Some pharmaceutical companies strategically create patent thickets, filing numerous patents around a single drug to create a complex web of intellectual property protection. This makes it challenging for generic manufacturers to navigate the patent landscape and…
Richard A Meyer

Marketing and Political thought leader — Writer- Audiophile