The Right Honourable Sir Robin Jacob, whose work since the late 60s has involved the pharmaceutical industry, believes that “on the whole [the system] works very very well”.
While acknowledging that there are flaws in the patent system, Jacob believes that the Commission must be careful that its changes do not hinder development of new drugs.
Jacob said: “The Commission repeatedly says that it does not want to damage the pharmaceutical industry and that it recognises how important patents are too it – it sounds to me a bit like Mark Anthony emphasising that Brutus was an honourable man.
“The big truth is that if you damage the income stream of research companies, you are going to imperil future research at the expense of European – indeed World - citizens. Yes, you will save money now, but at the cost of less future medicines.”
Jacob’s concern is that the topic of patenting medicines “is fraught with emotion and, dare I say it, irrational prejudices”, which could cloud peoples judgement when creating new legislation.
The “shocking” practices that the Commission’s report claims to have discovered have been used for decades according to Jacob, by numerous industries. This includes the practice of evergreening, which is the creation of additional patents in an attempt to extend product lifespan.
Jacob says this practice is not new, confined to the pharmaceutical industry or inherently bad. The patenting of “incremental non-obvious improvements” has always been legal and should remain so, according to Jacob.
It is possible that some of these patents will be bad but Jacob believes this is a matter for the courts. He describes the patent office as “a kind of coarse filter – rejecting clearly bad cases but having to allow those which may be good.”
Jacob believes that changes to the law will not alter this situation, arguing that the creation of a European Patent Court would allow bad patents to be dealt with in a quick, reliable manner.