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EL COSTE SOCIAL DE LAS PATENTES.
1. El coste social de las patentes1
“There is some evidence that monopoly pricing is much more of a
concern with regard to pharmaceutical products. For example, F.M.
Scherer has noted: <<From 1956 through the mid- 1960s, the Pfizer
Company and its four licensees sold the antibiotic tetracycline to
druggists at a wholesale price of $30.60 per bottle of 100 capsules.
Total sales at wholesale to drug stores exceeded $1 billion during this
period. Production costs ranged between $1.60 and $3.80 per bottle;
and when doubts about the validity of Pfizer´s patent began to mount,
several unlicensed firm began producing and selling tetracycline at
approximately $2.50 per bottle wholesale. Many similar cases of price-
cost margins on the order of 90 percent for patented drug products
have been identified>>. Such huge price-costs margins, combined with
evidence of substantially lower prices offered by generic producers
upon the expirations of the original patents, suggests strongly that
holders of pharmaceutical patents may be raising prices to points
where the benefits of restricting market power are considerable.
Certain types of uncertainty combined with delay might produce a net
benefit with regard to pharmaceutical… patents”.
2. PATENTLY ABSURD?2
“A patent is the way of rewarding somebody for coming up with a
worthy commercial idea. But putting a price on a good idea is a near-impossible task. Different countries have different schemes, although world bodies –such as the World Intellectual Property Organization - have recently been trying to harmonize the patchwork of legal issues created by countries´ different patent regimes. Since America is the innovation center of the world and the place where new ways of protecting intellectual property first appear, developments there are watched keenly by entrepreneurs and policymakers everywhere…
Growing numbers of economists are unearthing evidence that
America´s patent regime is out of step with precisely those values it was designed to promote. Some believe that, in certain industries, strengthening intellectual-property protection accomplishes nothing positive. Other think that it may actually do some harm. If these economists are correct, patent-holders themselves may soon start clamouring for weaker, and not stronger, protection…
1 AYRES/KLEMPERER, 97(1999), Yale L. J.
2 THE ECONOMIST, 23-29 junio de 2001, p 42 ss.
Between 1982 and 1992, the number of patents issued each year
in America doubled from 55000 to almost 110000… Computers led the patent surge…semiconductor patents increased fivefold over the same period… Carl Shapiro… says that computing, semiconductor and information-technology firms now encounter a <<thicket>> of patents that constrain their inventiveness. This phenomenon has been dubbed the tragedy of the anti-commons
–in contrast to the classic tragedy of the commons
that described how free resources such as fresh air and clean water could be over-used and destroyed by selfish agents. Here, the opposite occurs: when lots of property owners have to grant permission before a resource can be used, the result is that the resource tends to be chronically under-used. In the case of patents
–says Mr Shapiro- innovation is stifled
Do firms become more innovative when they increase their
patenting activity? Studies of the most patent-conscious business of all –the semiconductor industry– suggest they do not… investment in R & D (a reasonable proxy for innovation) did not substantially increase during the industry´ s most feverish period of patenting. Instead, semiconductor firms simply squeezed more patents out of each dollar they spent on R & D. From 1982 to 1992, the chip makers doubled their output of patents from 0.3 to 0.6 for every million dollars of R & D. That was at a time when the patent yield in other industries had barely budged… Wharton and Haas… found no evidence to suggest that the firms had become more innovative as patent rights became stronger. Tellingly, the consensus among employees… was that the average <<quality>> of their firms´ patents had declined. Though patent quality is a difficult notion to measure, the numbers of times a patent is cited in the technical literature is the nearest thing to a yardstick. And it is a fact that citations made per semiconductor patent declined during the 1980s. On balance, semiconductor patents seemed to have become less useful.
… Interviewees told the two business school economists that,
rather than patenting to win exclusive rights to a valuable new technology, patents were filed more for strategic purposes… so that they could use them defensively as bargaining chips to ward off infringement suits, or offensively as a means of blocking competitors´ products.
…. Increasing patent protection does not necessarily imply a rise
in innovation. Indeed, the rush to acquire patent portfolios could slow down the generation of new ideas… Why did the semiconductor industry enter a portfolio war? The computer, electronic, semiconductor and information technology industries are prone to such races because they depend on <<complex>> technologies… In industries that use complex technology, the value of any particular patent depends critically on the ability to use related technologies. Since it is rare that any one company will hold all the patents involved, rival firms in complex industries depend on each other to get innovations to the market.
For instance, a new adder register for a microprocessor cannot
function without the chip´ timing circuit or memory bus. Intel may be extremely inventive, but it does not own the patents on all the components needed to make such an enormously complicated device as a Pentium 4 processor. Innovation at this level can be stifled if the developer cannot secure permission to use other key components.
In contrast, the <<discrete>> technologies used in the
pharmaceutical, chemical and medical-equipment industries rely more on <<stand-alone>> patents. A new drug, for instance, does not depend on other patented drugs to do its job. In these industries, says Mr. Cohen, the role of patents is nor for bargaining purposes, but simply to secure greater returns from investment in research.
…Inventions made by semiconductor firms such as Intel and
Motorola may unwittingly infringe dozens of patents owned by other companies. The offending manufacturer would then have to pay licensing fees to many of its competitors. Worse, it could be sued for a patent emerged that covered some aspect of the item being produced. For firms that have invested heavily in specialized plant and equipment to make a new product <<hold up>> (as patent lawyers call it) is more than just an inconvenience.
With so many problems… many firms have collaborated on
carving out <<litigation-free zones>> within the patent thicket. By allowing manufacturers to avoid costly litigation, such arrangements benefit the producers significantly. Whether they do the same for consumers is another matter.
Firms such as Intel, IBM, Motorola and Sun Microsystems
frequently use cross-licensing agreements to swap intellectual property with each other. The problem is that large organizations like these already enjoy powerful patent rights from their existing portfolios, whereas smaller firms and newcomers do not. By raising the par for entry, cross-licensing can reduce competition. Moreover, powerful companies may coerce smaller ones with desirable technology into entering cross-licensing agreements by brandishing threats of hold-up or litigation.
A similar concern formed the substance of the case brought by
America’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Intel. The proceedings were settled in early 1999 when Intel consented to provide its competitors with technical information about its products, but the FTC’s broader worry was ignored. The European Union’s competition authorities in Brussels are now investigating further complaints against Intel for alleged anti-competitive practices
Another popular way of skirting the possibility of patent
infringement is for two or more companies to pool their patents in a given field and to license then as a package, for a fixed fee, to each other and to third parties. Such <<patent pools>> come in handy when industries need to set technical standards or protocols for a new type of technology.
Because patent pools lead to co-operation among <<horizontal
competitors>> antitrust authorities understandably view them with suspicion. In 1998 when America’s Department of Justice approved a pool of DVD (digital video disc) patents shared by Philips, Sony and Pioneer, the department insisted that the pool contain only those patents deemed essential to the technical standard. The European Union has also made discouraging noises about the negative effects of patent pools on competition.
As a last resort, firms with conflicting patents can attempt to
merge or pay one another to leave the field. Neither of these techniques necessarily advances competition. Indeed, such moves may well hinder it… Other strategies… may cause less damage to competition. Good old-fashioned secrecy may work as well for generating returns from intellectual property. Firms try to ensure secrecy by binding employees with contractual non-compete clauses or non-disclosure agreements… The importance of secrecy was borne out by a survey done recently…. Overall, the managers rated secrecy and lead-time (ie, <<first-mover advantage>>) as the most important mechanisms for appropriating returns on innovative products. For process innovations, secrecy led rankings, too… (Por el contrario) in discrete industries, such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, managers regarded patents as the main way of protecting new products
. The implication is that –given the conflicting needs of different
industries, different companies and different peoples around the world- the patenting authorities reed to find a greater variety of tools for protecting intellectual property than they have at present”
3. Una solución para resolver los problemas que el
Derecho de patentes crea3.
“La depresión es una enfermedad depresivamente corriente. Sólo
en Estados Unidos hay en torno a 11 millones de pacientes. Los especialistas afirman que el 80 o el 90 % de los afectados podrían obener alivio, sobre todo, tomando medicamentos como Prozac, pero sólo una parte de los enfermos lo utilizan. Una explicación de este comportamiento consiste en que el precio del medicamento es elevado: un mes de tratamiento con Prozac cuesta más de 60 dólares.
Muchos nuevos medicamentos son caros porque están
patentados… El problema consiste en encontrar sistemas que permitan incentivar la innovación (y evitar los efectos negativos del monopolio que crea la patente). Una solución consiste en que el Estado subvencione la investigación y después, distribuir la fórmula a todo el mundo para que sea el mercado el que fije el precio apropiado del medicamento. En Estados Unidos, más o menos la mitad de la investigación médica está financiada con fondos públicos. El problema
3 THE ECONOMIST, 15 de junio de 1996, p 93.
de este tipo de solución es que los Estados no son los más hábiles para seleccionar qué investigación merece ser financiada, lo que convierte a la financiación pública en una forma todavía más ineficiente de promover la innovación.
¿Hay otra solución mejor?… Michael Kremer, un economista en el
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cree que sí4. Propone una solución a medio camino entre el derecho de patente y las subvenciones públicas que ayudaría a la sociedad a capturar una parte mayor del valor social de los medicamentos, sin los problemas inherentes a las subvenciones públicas. Su idea es que los Estados debería ofrecer comprar las patentes a las empresas farmacéuticas titulares de las mismas para, una vez adquiridas, ponerlas a disposición de cualquiera que quiera producir el medicamento.
Pero ¿cuánto debería pagar el Estado por una patente? Para
responder a esta cuestión, Mr. Kremer propone que se celebre una subasta a la que serían invitadas las empresas farmacéuticas competidoras que deberían pujar por el medicamento patentado que las otras empresas hubieran inventado. Esta subasta competitiva determinaría el precio de la patente equivalente a las rentas monopolísticas que las empresas obtendrían por el hecho de ser titulares de la patente.
El Estado se ofrecería entonces a comprar la patente a un precio
por encima del valor obtenido en subasta. Esta prima o valor extra reflejaría el valor extra que la sociedad obtiene del hecho de que el medicamento esté disponible y sea barato y promocionaría la investigación en el nuevo medicamento… En teoría, un sistema como el expuesto combina lo mejor de las patentes y de las subvenciones públicas. Igual que la financiación directa de la investigación, elimina las ineficiencias del precio monopolista y elimina los incentivos de las empresas para duplicar los esfuerzos de investigación. Y como el sistema actual de patentes, significa que lo que sea o deba ser investigado sigue determinado por el sector privado”5.
4 The Economist cita un HIID discussion paper nº 533, May 1996 titulado “A
Mechanism for Encouraging Innovation”.
5 Problemas, 1º drug firms might collude with one another in auctions, deliberately
bidding up prices so that the government ends up paying more than patents are really worth… Mr. Kremer suggests that once in a while the government should not
buy the patent itself, but instead allow it to go to the highest private bidder. Alternatively, it could offer to buy the patent at a premium to the third- or fifth-highest bid, rather than the highest one… A second tricky area is defining the scope
of a patent. A clever firm might for example, invent a drug that was only efective if used together with another one which has a separate patent. For Mr. Kremer´s
system to work, a government would have to buy both patents. There is also a danger that… (the Government) will end up subsidising drugs by more than their
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