Dear Judge Posner,
I am writing this open letter to solicit a donation from you for my nonprofit organization. indysci dot org is organized to conduct basic and applied science research. More to the point, our first project is to bring an unpatented anticancer drug candidate through preclinical trials. Today is significant because the Supreme court is hearing arguments in Alice v. CLS, which I believe will be a watershed moment in patent law by deciding on the scope of software patentability. The reason why I am specifically soliciting a donation from you is that you have publicly opined (Atlantic, July 2012) that “pharmaceuticals are the poster child for the patent system.”
To support this argument, you assert three particular characteristics of the pharma process: Costliness of invention, patent term tickdown, and low barrier to entry for competitors. Aside from the second, which is rendered moot in the unpatented case, I agree with the line of reasoning you present but disagree with the magnitude of the initial assumptions that go into supporting the conclusion. In my opinion, working in an unpatented system merely means that a pharmaceutical company has to work harder, invent smarter, deliver cheaper, and simply settle for more modest margins. The non-generic pharma sector enjoys some of the highest margins in the healthcare field, regularly on the high end of 10~15%.
Obviously our opinions are in conflict. Feynman, in his celebrated cargo cult speech, exhorted scientists to adhere to a “specific, extra type of integrity that is not [only not] lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong”. He’s been an inspiration to me in my scientific career, and so I’m motivated to challenge you to donate a small sum towards proving yourself wrong – that maybe drug patents are also unnecessary and maybe it is possible for the pharmaceutical enterprise to learn something from the open source movement that revolutionized computing.
Isaac Yonemoto, PhD
Founder, indysci dot org