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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Seeking Competitive Intelligence from Patents

The Nature of Patents

'Patents are the lifeblood of the pharmaceutical industry' is a statement which acquired cliché status long ago, but which is undeniably true. When the statement was first uttered, probably more than 40 years ago, the orator was surely thinking in terms of the innovations which characterised the mid-20th Century - such drug classes as the b-lactam antibacterials, the b-blockers, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and so on. Now that biotechnology has changed the drug discovery landscape forever, the cliché remains equally valid: the drug industry depends on innovation, and innovation calls for a strong and effective patent system.

A patent is a bargain. The inventor makes a full disclosure of the innovation, and in return the State grants a monopoly for a limited period. Though it is the first of these concepts that forms the focus of this article, it is worthwhile reflecting briefly on the second. Not all industries make such comprehensive use of the patent system as the pharmaceutical industry does, and this must be a consequence of the similarity between the life cycle of a successful pharmaceutical product and the 20-year patent term which is now practically universal.


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By Peter Steele, Managing Director at Current Patents Ltd

Peter Steele graduated in Chemistry and then studied Information Science. He worked in industrial information departments for more than 20 years, including 16 years as head of Glaxo's intellectual property information unit based in London.
Seven years as an Independent IP Consultant ended in 1998 when he joined Current Science Group in order to establish Current Patents Ltd.

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