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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e49470. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049470. Epub 2012 Dec 5.

Polymorphs and prodrugs and salts (oh my!): an empirical analysis of "secondary" pharmaceutical patents.

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Yale Law School, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.



While there has been much discussion by policymakers and stakeholders about the effects of "secondary patents" on the pharmaceutical industry, there is no empirical evidence on their prevalence or determinants. Characterizing the landscape of secondary patents is important in light of recent court decisions in the U.S. that may make them more difficult to obtain, and for developing countries considering restrictions on secondary patents.


We read the claims of the 1304 Orange Book listed patents on all new molecular entities approved in the U.S. between 1988 and 2005, and coded the patents as including chemical compound claims (claims covering the active molecule itself) and/or one of several types of secondary claims. We distinguish between patents with any secondary claims, and those with only secondary claims and no chemical compound claims ("independent" secondary patents). We find that secondary claims are common in the pharmaceutical industry. We also show that independent secondary patents tend to be filed and issued later than chemical compound patents, and are also more likely to be filed after the drug is approved. When present, independent formulation patents add an average of 6.5 years of patent life (95% C.I.: 5.9 to 7.3 years), independent method of use patents add 7.4 years (95% C.I.: 6.4 to 8.4 years), and independent patents on polymorphs, isomers, prodrug, ester, and/or salt claims add 6.3 years (95% C.I.: 5.3 to 7.3 years). We also provide evidence that late-filed independent secondary patents are more common for higher sales drugs.


Policies and court decisions affecting secondary patenting are likely to have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Secondary patents provide substantial additional patent life in the pharmaceutical industry, at least nominally. Evidence that they are also more common for best-selling drugs is consistent with accounts of active "life cycle management" or "evergreening" of patent portfolios in the industry.

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