Is Bernie Sanders Lost in Orbit With His HIV/AIDs Proposal?

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently released a proposal calling for a new approach to encourage development of drugs for HIV/AIDs. In doing so, he called the prohibitive cost of treatment “one of the great moral issues of our day.”

The media’s coverage has called Sanders opportunistic for releasing the paper soon after a Hillary Clinton gaffe. Or it has wondered how the prize money central to his proposal would be divvied up. Or who would divvy it up. Or where it would come from. Or whether it would compete with NIH funding. Or it has been lumped in with the rest of Sanders’ ideas for health care.

But a larger question is getting ignored.

That question: is it possible that juicy cash prizes would be a better incentive for drug innovation than the patent system upon which we have relied for hundreds of years?

To analyze the answer to this question, it helps to understand the patent system we use today.

How the patent system incentivizes innovation

Patents have existed since the medieval period. Most date the first patent law back to the Venetian Act of 1474, which established inventors’ rights. Some early patent and monopoly concepts emphasized discovery and benefit to society, while other legal approaches emphasized property rights and inventor protections.

In the U.S., federal patent laws have been on the books since 1790. They borrow on some of these early ideas with the basic idea of encouraging inventors to share their discoveries by granting exclusive rights for a limited time.

When it comes to new drugs, our patent laws guarantee a drug manufacturer exclusive rights for 20 years. Getting a period of exclusivity incentivizes drug companies to embark on expensive research projects to discover new treatments. Given —> Read More