Little blue pills and the value of good patent protection

Little blue pills and the value of good patent protection
July 3, 2013 sandersons

Aviagra-pills-pfizer-logos of 21st Jun 2013, Viagra is out of patent, opening the door for generic pharmaceutical manufacturers to take a share of a market estimated at around £1.5 billion a year.

Viagra was first developed in the UK by Pfizer at its research facility in Sandwich, Kent and was covered by three separate patents.

  • The first patent was filed in June 1991 after they created a new compound that showed a potential benefit to customers suffering from cardiac conditions such as angina.  During trials it was shown to be not very effective at treating angina, but the volunteers began asking for extra supplies of the drug as they were discovering it had a rather useful side-effect…
  • In May 1994 a second patent was filed and granted covering a discovery for its use as a treatment for impotence.   This patent was however rescinded in 2000 following a challenge by Eli Lilly and Icos Corporation.  The judge ruled that Pfizer’s 1993 patent was “invalid for obviousness” because the breakthrough was based on knowledge that was in the public domain.
  • A third patent was filed in 1997 relating to a process of mass-producing the compound.

James Sanderson, Senior Partner at Sanderson & Co says, “Good patent protection relies on a balance between careful definition and development of claims, while trying to limit the possibilities for competitors to find alternatives to your product.”

Pharmaceuticals are very expensive to develop and manufacturers have a relatively short window in which to take advantage of a successful product.  The company must use the success of one product to offset against the development costs of the products that don’t make it through the development and testing phases.

“Management of a company’s intellectual property portfolio must take into account the commercial life span of products and the patents that protect them.  For a successful product like Viagra, management of the transition into the post-patent phase of its life-cycle will be vital.” says James.

Prices for the drug are expected to fall dramatically but there will continue to be a market for Viagra for many years to come and Pfizer has now launched a non-branded version of sildenafil to directly compete with the dozens of other companies launching their own versions.

This is good news for the NHS, which currently spends £40 million each year on the drug.  The price reduction is also expected to help to end the market in dangerous counterfeit tablets and may also lead to an increase in availability through the NHS which currently only allows doctors to prescribe it to patients with certain medical conditions.

For advice on IP portfolio management and how to get the most out your intellectual property, please contact Sanderson & Co.

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