Brad Watts Brad Watts
Vice President, Patents and Innovation Policy, Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce


July 01, 2024


Policymaking must be informed by empirical evidence. Regrettably, in recent years, Congress and other authorities have used unreliable data from activist organizations, data that has been thoroughly debunked, to inform their views on the life-science innovation ecosystem. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has dedicated nearly two years to dissecting this flawed data, only to confirm that it is more fiction than truth.

The myth of patent “thickets”: These activists have falsely claimed that innovative life science companies amass excessive patents on a single new medicine to make it more difficult for or even prevent generic medicines from entering the marketplace. But USPTO’s new research proves them wrong. USPTO’s study covered a representative range of important medications and found no correlation between the numbers of patents on a product and generic entry. In fact, USPTO’s study shows that generic medicines are routinely approved and launched while patents associated with the branded medicine remain in force. The reason is simple—contrary to the activists’ claims, each patent associated with an innovative medicine covers a different invention, innovative aspect, or improvement of the medicine. This allows generic versions of original drugs to enter the market once patents on them expire, while also enabling the continued improvement of the branded medicine. In short, USPTO’s new research proves that activist organizations are either being untruthful or misleading about their claims.

Debunking the evergreening narrative: In addition to pushing false narratives around so-called patent thickets, these same activists have also falsely claimed that life-science companies unlawfully extend the length of their property protection beyond 20 years. But, yet again, USPTO confirms these claims are misleading and manipulative. For example, activists falsely claimed that one product had decades worth of “monopolies” when in reality it only enjoyed 16 years of market exclusivity. More importantly, generic versions of this product were launched before the expiration of the product’s patents

Fake facts, real world policy implications: The patent system is too important to be evaluated based on anything but legitimate data. If American leaders are going to propose changes to our patent system, they need to ensure those changes aren’t rooted in unreliable data from activists. Hopefully lawmakers and the public will listen to the USPTO and recognize that living life-science innovation is the key to more products, more cures, and more treatments.

About the authors

Brad Watts

Brad Watts

Brad Watts is the Vice President for Patents and Innovation Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC). He works with U.S. Chamber members to foster a political, legal, and economic environment where innovators and creators can invest in the next big thing for the benefit of Americans and the world.

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