What Are Intellectual Property Rights in Biotechnology?

What Are Biotechnology Intellectual Property Rights?

Biotechnology intellectual property rights are the legal ownership of an interest in a patent, trademark or trade secret. This means that another company cannot use those assets without permission from the company established as the official owner. In health care, intellectual property rights give their owners exclusive use of pharmaceuticals, brand names and more. Intellectual property rights are often the primary driver of value for these companies, particularly in biotech.

Key Takeaways

  • Intellectual property rights, as they pertain to the Biotechnology sector, concern the legal ownership and exclusive rights to patents, trademarks, and trade secrets.
  • Just like with other industries, intellectual property rights allow biotech firms to establish ownership and protect their products from the threat of competitors.
  • A company might own the patent to a specific drug and the exclusive right to market it under a certain name, for example, because it holds the intellectual property rights.

Understanding Biotechnology Intellectual Property Rights

Biotechnology intellectual property rights provide health care companies with a means to protect their claim to and ownership of these assets through common law, state law or federal law. There is some controversy over intellectual property rights in biotechnology. Those in favor argue that they provide a key incentive for developers to innovate because these protections will allow them to be financially rewarded for successful innovations. Those opposed to the strict enforcement of these protections argue that broader sharing of information would reduce prices and increase access to care, especially in developing countries.

Biotechnology Intellectual Property Rights Examples

Here is one example of how intellectual property rights work in the health care industry. Federal protection allows companies to use the ® symbol with a trade name to indicate that it has a registered trademark and that no one else can use that name. More than one company may sell the same chemical compound, which means the same drug, but only one company can legally use the trademarked name to market that drug.

For example, while many companies sell the antidepressant drug fluoxetine hydrochloride, only Eli Lilly can call it Prozac. Likewise, only Hoffmann-La Roche can use the trademarked name Tamiflu to market a drug called Oseltamivir that is designed to prevent and treat influenza. Trademarks aren’t just used with drugs, however; they’re also used with hospital names, physician practice names, and other entities with distinct branding. This is of major importance to companies in this business environment, where branding, marketing, and image are central components of business operations and strategic positioning. Some studies estimate that pharmaceutical companies spend as much as $30 billion on marketing annually to raise brand awareness for their drugs.

As another example, biotechnology companies use patents to protect their intellectual property rights to drug delivery devices. AstraZeneca owns the intellectual property rights to the Symbicort Turbuhaler, which is the drug budesonide/formoterol in a dry powder inhaler for the maintenance treatment of asthma and COPD. Other health care companies use patents to protect their intellectual property rights to devices such as splints, prostheses, vision testing machines and the computer systems used in health care management.

Article Sources
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  1. Pew Charitable Trusts. "Persuading the Prescribers: Pharmaceutical Industry Marketing and its Influence on Physicians and Patients." Accessed Feb. 11, 2021.