Patents and Prescription Medication: Are Big Pharmaceuticals Abusing Patents, and Endangering Lives?

Written By: Batseba Rufael

In the U.S., about 66 percent of adults take prescription medication.[1] There has been a consistent increase of prescription drug prices over the years. This increase does not only affect newly invented drugs but also drugs like insulinand epinephrine that have been on the market for ages. Adults with chronic illnesses such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis  are especially reliant on prescription drugs for survival.[2] Prices of specialty drugs that treat such conditions have tripled in the last ten years, going from about $18,000 to more than $52,000 on average. Brand name drugs account for 77 percent of prescription drug spending, resulting in high deductibles, premiums, and pharmacy costs for patients.[3]

Such severe increases in prices prevent  individuals requiring life saving medications to avoid refilling their prescriptions or force them to skip doses. This behavior resulting from the drug price increases puts millions at risk.[4] In a poll conducted by PawnGuru, 44 percent of respondents have admitted to not purchasing necessary prescriptions due to high costs.[5] From  those surveyed, 40 percent say that their insurance companies have  refused to cover their prescription medication at least once. [6] The cost of individuals being unable to purchase their prescription medication is facing  detrimental health consequences. There are about 125,000 deaths per year in the U.S due to non-adherence of prescription medication.[7] Lack of access to prescription drugs accelerates the patient’s health deterioration. Such deterioration results in a greater need for more intensive medical care, inadvertently resulting in an increased overall healthcare spending.[8]

One of the biggest contributors to rising prescription medication prices is the increased patent registrations for medications by big pharmaceutical companies. Patents of such drugs allow these companies to limit or entirely exterminate any competition from companies trying to create inexpensive generic brands.[9] Although  patents  allow for inventors to strive towards innovation, the big-brand pharmaceutical companies abuse their ability to patent.  These companies often patent  several features of their drugs that do not  provide any novelty  in order to limit the creation of generic drugs.[10] Patents do not  last forever but big pharmaceutical companies will consistently abuse the patent registration system by filling patent claims with the knowledge  that legally challenging those claims would take years to litigate, thus extending the lifespan of their patents.[11] There are other forms of patent abuse used by these companies to keep competitors out of the market and keep increasing the prices of their prescription medication. Without stricter regulations  in place, big pharmaceutical companies  will continue to abuse the patent system. And in this cycle of abuse, individuals who have no access to their medications, but need them the most, will continue to suffer without any aid or protection. and it is those individuals who can’t afford their medications but need it the most that will continue to suffer with no other alternatives.


[1] Georgetown University, Prescription Drugs, Health Policy Institute,   https://hpi.georgetown.edu/rxdrugs/ (accessed on Nov. 08, 2021) [https://perma.cc/X9HP-YKZQ].

[2] Health insurance. org, Specialty Drug, https://www.healthinsurance.org/glossary/specialty-drug/, (accessed on Nov. 08, 2021) [https://perma.cc/3PKQ-BHXA].

[3] Erik Komendant, Skyrocketing Drug Prices: What’s driving up costs?, Association for Accessible Medicines, https://accessiblemeds.org/resources/blog/skyrocketing-drug-prices-whats-driving-costs (accessed on Nov. 08, 2021) [ https://perma.cc/ZB32-GD3K ].

[4] Dr. Kevin Campbell, Why are prescription drugs rising?, US News (Feb. 6, 2019, 6:00 AM),  https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2019-02-06/why-are-prescription-drug-prices-rising .

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Athulya, Do patents increase the price of drugs?, Vakil Search (Jul. 25, 2020) https://vakilsearch.com/advice/do-patents-increase-the-price-of-drugs/ [https://perma.cc/VD28-8DPT ]

[11] Patricia Kelmar, Hacking through thickets of drug patents to get to affordable medicine, U.S. PIRG ( March 31, 2021) https://uspirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/hacking-through-thickets-drug-patents-get-affordable-medicine [https://perma.cc/9KBB-DQ5J ].


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