“This Jan. 1, readers, archivists, and creatives in the United States celebrated a special holiday: the largest Public Domain Day in 21 years. The legal ownership of hundreds of works of classic literature — this year including well-loved Robert Frost poems like “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” — was transferred into the hands of the people.
We suggest a plot twist: Let’s celebrate the same way when drug patents expire.
Every year, patents on high-profile branded drugs expire and these compounds “go generic,” allowing competitors to make and sell these same treatments at lower prices. Unlike literature, where copyright protection can last a whopping 95 years or more after initial publication, most drugs are under patent protection for just 10 to 15 years. Companies that successfully bring a drug to market have only that time to charge high prices before the drug goes generic. Patent protection is their window to profit from their investments and to plow some of that money back into developing new treatments. This system of incentives keeps the biotechnology innovation engine churning, rather than allowing it to milk cash-cow drugs forever….
Public Domain Day is clearly something to celebrate. The expiration of a copyright on a literary work merits a moment to admire its beauty, contemplate our gratitude to its creator, and mark the place it has held and will continue to hold in our collective human story.
We should do the same when branded drugs enter the public domain. These therapies keep working just as well as before, but they become much less expensive. In the case of oral drugs, there’s an average 90 percent drop in price within a few years as multiple generics come into the market. By anticipating when a branded drug is set to enter the public domain and publicizing the date as it approaches, the public might not only show innovators that they are appreciated but also apply some healthy social pressure to let them go generic with grace, instead of tying up patent expirations in complicated legislative battles that delay the entry of generics. In short, we need a Public Domain Day for drugs….”