Patent Thicket Déjà Vu

Alex Brill and Christy Robinson | Commentary

Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on drug competition was largely as expected: Committee members voiced support for legislative reforms to address features of the current patent system that result in abuses that excessively limit competition. Members repeatedly noted that the goal of stopping patent abuse enjoys bipartisan support, and most of the invited witnesses echoed support for various patent reform proposals.

But, as we noted on Monday, the Committee seems to be having patent thicket déjà vu, and this played out at Tuesday’s hearing. Near the 85-minute mark, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) took aim at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—making clear that his objection is with the power entrusted to the Leader, not the Senator himself—for blocking the full Senate from voting on bipartisan patent reforms.

The exact same dynamic was in play five years ago, when, as Politico reported, “Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to commit to bringing up either a Senate Finance Committee drug package or a HELP Committee bill to lower health care costs. One Senate aide said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put a ‘hold’ on the legislation.”

In other words, Senator Schumer previously blocked patent thicket bills because he wanted Republicans to advance other drug pricing reform proposals. But there’s a chance that things are changing now. Inside Health Policy reported on Tuesday that Schumer may have pivoted. His office told the publication that he “is supportive of the [bipartisan drug patent reform] bills and wants to move them at the next available opportunity.” Let’s hope that the déjà vu is over.