Role of IPR in the Evolution And Diffusion of Antibiotic Tablets



Antibiotic tablets development and dissemination is one of a handful of early twentieth-century breakthrough innovations that altered health, clinical practice, and industry. Sulfa medicines (discovered in Germany in the 1930s), penicillin (invented in the United Kingdom in the 1930s, but initially mass produced in the United States later), and streptomycin (developed in the US in the 1940s).  ) are the three breakthrough antibiotics. Following these successes, a slew of new antibiotics was developed, including semi-synthetic penicillin’s, cephalosporin’s, and a variety of broad-spectrum antibiotics tablets. One well-known reason for the difficulty in assessing the impact of patents on innovation (and other outcomes) is that patent laws are intertwined with a variety of other factors that influence innovation, making it difficult to determine what role patents play in comparison to other correlated factors. Science and technology, market structure, and supporting institutions all influence patent rules and strategy. As a result, patents appear to have played very different roles in the development of the breakthrough antibiotics tablets than they did in the development of the many follow-on developments. The importance of intellectual property in the creation and evolution of antibiotics is examined in this blog.

Evolution of the Antibiotics:

Patenting the active ingredient of most new antibiotics and producing exclusively became an important aspect of the commercial strategy. Patents on products and processes were previously licenced to other manufacturers by their owners. Firms began to utilize their active component patents to enforce monopoly positions with the new wave of antibiotics, causing the first wave of worries about excessive medicine pricing. According to FTC (1958), early penicillin’s and streptomycin’s had widespread manufacturing, whereas antibiotics introduced subsequently often had just one or a few makers. Firms began aggressively using trademarks to try to strengthen and expand monopoly periods, much like the Germans had done with sulfa medications decades before. This was especially crucial because early antibiotics were subjected to intense price rivalry within their class. By 1954, there were over 100 antibiotics tablets marketed under over 500 different trade names, causing a lot of confusion among doctors.

Pooling, also known as price fixing and cartelization, was another technique. When three broad-spectrum antibiotics tablets were created independently by three companies and chemical similarities were discovered, the companies grew concerned not only about marketing and product differentiation, but also about overlapping patent claims. Instead of relying on the patent office to determine priority, they came to an arrangement to split the market and (allegedly) exclude competitors. Concerns about the detrimental impacts of patent monopolies in the antibiotics industry prompted the growth of regulation (overprescribing, high prices).The growth in restrictions that has resulted is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons why patent protection is more necessary in medicines than in other sectors. On the one hand, trials greatly raise R&D expenditures, necessitating longer patent durations (to recoup costs). On the other hand, the requirement for trials makes it more difficult to design around a patent, one can edit a molecule, but it is costly to get this changed molecule to market, necessitating costly new trials. Technology and the institutions that regulate the sector co-evolved once more.

The Roles of Patents in Antibiotic Innovation and Development

For the sulfa drugs, is clear that patents were very much a focus of the German effort to discover and develop sulfa drugs. One of the main theoretical benefits of patents is that they promote disclosure. In this case, there was so much concern about this disclosure effect that there were delays in filing patent applications (and publicizing the invention) until other variants of sulfa were found. Moreover, given concerns about reverse engineering, many researchers apparently aimed to write their patents to prevent complete disclosure. Despite these attempts to obfuscation, the main sulfa patent's release resulted in some disclosure. Anyone who wanted to know how to create Streptozon, at least in broad terms, could now look it up after it was published. And it appears that the French researchers were able to identify sulfanilamide, an ancient chemical, as the crucial element as a result of their experiments. Patents were undoubtedly an incentive for the discovery. However, at the time of this discovery, only process patents were available in most countries. Furthermore, the surprising finding that an old chemical with no patents was the key to production sparked competition and, maybe, innovation. So there were patents driving innovation but not actually restricting access in the sulfa narrative, but only because the patents were shown to be ineffectual after the discovery. In contrast to sulfa, the storey of penicillin is generally regarded as one in which patents played little or no influence. Penicillin was not patented, but it wasn't thoroughly characterized, and it's unclear whether it was described precisely enough to warrant a patent. Furthermore, there was little motivation to patent penicillin due to its limited utility. Chain had apparently wanted to patent penicillin at the Oxford Group, but this was a cause of contention between him and Florey. Florey, like many other medical researchers at the time, thought that patenting the outcomes of publicly financed research was unethical. Furthermore, because penicillin mould was a natural substance, patenting would have been problematic. In any event, pharmaceutical product patents were not accessible in the UK at the time, and the procedure had already been published before Chain became interested in patenting it. Patents on the production process had been obtained by US corporations involved in penicillin production, as well as experts at the Department of Agriculture. This created some consternation among British scholars, who claimed that the US researchers had privatized a publicly available UK finding (and, later, forced UK firms to pay royalties on the technology). Whether or not this is accurate is debatable, but the perception that the UK had missed out on penicillin spurred UK researchers to be more proactive in patenting other medical breakthroughs in the future. It's also possible that it influenced Chain's decision to leave the UK for Italy after the war. Penicillin was widely available at a reasonable cost because there were few product patents on it. Penicillin's eventual inability to profit led to a greater emphasis on exclusivity in later R&D initiatives.

Global diffusion and Access to medicines:

All of these game-changing inventions spread quickly and cheaply within developed countries. Patents were not a hindrance in any of the cases, but for different reasons. The basic chemical for sulfa was discovered to be unpatentable. Many analysts believe that the lack of patentability aided widespread adoption. The same can be said for penicillin. Merck issued a broad licence for streptomycin in the face of public opposition. Product patents were likewise not widely available until the late 1960s, even in industrialized countries. Moreover, until the 1995 Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, most poor nations did not allow for pharmaceutical product patents.Despite this, it took a long time for breakthrough medicines to reach developing nations, and many of the infectious diseases they treat are still a problem today, according to several scholars. Some have viewed this as evidence that patents aren't the primary cause of access issues. In underdeveloped countries, however, there is no concrete evidence of the effects of patents or non-patenting on dissemination or access.


Patents are common in the pharmaceutical industry since they are both necessary for appropriability and innovation incentives, as well as effective at excluding competitors. Patents played a more nuanced role in the three breakthrough discoveries, sulfa medicines, penicillin, and streptomycin, than this description suggests. Two of the three patents (sulfa and streptomycin) may have served as key catalysts for invention. Patents did not, however, restrict access to any of these inventions. Furthermore, the technology platforms and fundamental procedures linked with the three breakthrough cases were kept generally open, with few patents or exclusive licences, which some observers believe promoted follow-on innovation. Though the antibiotic revolution helped to birth the pharmaceutical industry in many respects, the sector altered radically in the years afterward, thanks in large part to the revolution. The earliest breakthrough innovations, as the discussion of broad-spectrum antibiotics revealed, earned money and built capabilities that would later be used in the search for other antibiotics tablets and medications. This later search was specifically focused on getting patentable discoveries that were created exclusively across all drug classes. This was backed up by massive, vertically integrated research firms. Patent litigation and patent-getting competitions grew increasingly widespread. Drugs were heavily marketed once companies gained patents. As a result of the increased marketing and concerns about inappropriate use and excessive prices, new medication laws were enacted. These are thought to have increased medication development expenses, as well as the value of patent protection. Science, technology, legislation, and strategies all co-evolve, as seen by the breakthrough inventions. This makes determining the causal influence of patents and other intellectual property rights on innovation extremely challenging. It's impossible to determine how the development of the breakthrough antibiotics would have gone if the patents had been less (or stronger).It is now obvious that the antibiotic tablets revolution aided in the development of the present patent-intensive pharmaceutical business by generating capabilities and revenues that led to further innovation, as well as by influencing patent laws, standards, and firm patent strategies.

Author: Anuja Saraswat - a student of NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law (Mumbai), in case of any queries please contact/write back us at or Global Patent Filing.

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