0BLAW AND ECONOMICS SEMINAR
Winter Quarter 2010
March 4, 2010
4:15 - 5:45 p.m.
Stanford Law School
“Drug Patent Length”
Benjamin N. Roin
(Harvard Law School)
Note: It is expected that you will have reviewed the speaker’s paper before the Seminar. Because
this paper is longer than usual, the author has provided the following reader's guide: "This article
is fairly long. Readers who wish to save time can just read the Introduction (pp 1-5) and Parts III
& IV (pp 19-53). Readers who wish to save a lot of time can just read the Introduction, which -- for
the most part -- fully articulates the argument made in the paper."
DRAFT: DO NOT CITE OR DISTRIBUTE WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S PERMISSION.
DRUG PATENT LENGTH
Benjamin N. Roin†
Feb. 19, 2010
The 20-year patent term is meant to offer a uniform period of protection to all inventions.
In practice, inventors enjoy varying lengths of effective patent life over their inventions, and the
variations depend in large part on the amount of time it takes them to develop their invention.
The 20-year patent term runs from the filing date of a patent, which for most inventions occurs
early in product development. The longer it takes to get an invention onto the market, the shorter
its effective patent life becomes. In the pharmaceutical industry, this dynamic causes severe
distortions in R&D investments. The drugs that take the longest to develop generally have the
highest R&D costs, and hence require more protection to motivate investment in their
development, while the drugs that move quickly onto the market tend to have lower R&D costs,
and thus need less protection. Rather than awarding a longer patent term where it is needed, the
patent system actually gives a shorter effective patent life to the drugs that take longer to develop
and a longer effective patent life to drugs