How Many Patents Are Enough for a Product?March 12, 2019

The answer to the question of course, depends on the commercial value of the product. However, it is also obvious that the commercial value of a product is closely correlated to the number of patents for its protection. The relationship between commercial value and number of patents is best illustrated by the relevant facts for the most expensive pharmaceutical products.

It is well known that drugs are expensive and their patent protection is an easy target for criticism. A recent report by I-MAK on the twelve best-selling drugs in the United States indicated that there are on average 125 filed patent applications and 71 issued patents for each of these drugs. The price for these drugs has increased by 68% on average since 2012. Humira, the number-one selling drug on earth by Abbvie for arthritis, has 247 patent applications and 132 issued patents for its protection, to go with its $18B global sale in 2017 (more than $50.5M per day) and 144% price increase since 2012. Humira came to the market in 2002 and the patent on Humira’s main ingredient expired in 2016. However, no generic alternate drug appeared on the market because of the other patents for its manufacturing methods and processes. Putting aside the question of whether the pharmaceutical companies abuse the patent system, one can easily conclude that filing more patent applications for an important product works in their favor.

Humira, like other biological drugs on the market, is not difficult to make or copy. However, unlike those traditional chemical drugs, biological drugs require complex manufacturing and quality control processes. The pharmaceutical companies usually file a lot of patent applications on every possible aspect of manufacture and the sheer number of these patents or patent applications have certainly played an important role to discourage potential competitors to try filing.

More issued patents or patent applications for any product increases a competitor’s cost to compete. Regardless of their quality, more patents or patent applications means a higher cost, even to evaluate them. More patents makes it harder to find out an alternative and effective way to design around the original. Ever if one thinks that it is easier to challenge and invalidate a patent under the current patent system, the cost to do so is still directly proportional to the number of issued patents and the number of claims in each of them. The number of issued patents and patent applications on a product is still a very effective barrier to defend any competition.

The number of patents or patent applications on the most expensive drugs is absurd and impossible to emulate for other types of products. However, the strategy used for these drugs is very effective for anyone who wants to use patents to protect a product. The commercial value of any product can increase when you file more patent applications, not only on the original design or composition, but also its improvement and manufacture processes. Both quality and quantity matter and quantity is usually better.

For more information on this topic, contact McKee, Voorhees & Sease at or by calling our office at (515) 288-3667.

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