San Francisco Business Times: Opinion: Patent ‘reform’ is patent nonsense

By Paul Hastings, Op-Ed to the San Francisco Business Times

Jul 27, 2015

Life expectancy for cancer patients has increased by three years since 1980. For children fighting cancer, the chance of survival increases every day. There are now 14 million cancer survivors living in the U.S., up from just 3 million in 1971.

OncoMed is led by CEO Paul Hastings Photo Credit: Paolo Vescia
OncoMed is led by CEO Paul Hastings
Photo Credit: Paolo Vescia

I’m proud to say that progress is largely attributable to smarter, more innovative cancer treatments like the ones we are developing at OncoMed. Across the country, companies like ours are working hard and dedicating significant financial resources to finding the next breakthrough treatment for cancers and other deadly, debilitating diseases.

But the future of American medical innovation is in jeopardy – and potential cures hang in the balance. Patent reform legislation moving through Congress would undermine the reliability of all patents, a structure vital to maintaining a vibrant biotech industry in the United States, and especially here in California.

The problem lies in what is known as the Inter Parte Review process, or IPR. IPR was created by Congress in the America Invents Act of 2011. Designed to curtail frivolous patent lawsuits, this process has instead shown itself to be riddled with unintended consequences.

It is doubtful that Congress intended for IPR to kill off good patents, yet that it what is happening — to such an extent that the process is being called a “death panel” for patents. For the biopharmaceutical sector, IPR has shown itself to be a faulty alternative to a carefully crafted framework that Congress established years ago to resolve patent challenges to FDA-approved medicines.

A strong patent system gives confidence to investors who are willing to finance the research and development of new medicines and therapies. But now, with the patent system under attack, investors will be wary. If investors are not confident in patents, they are going to move their capital to other areas and seriously curtail medical research.

California’s thriving biotech industry doesn’t just contribute to life-saving cures, it’s also an economic powerhouse, with over 2,500 companies employing nearly 300,000 Californians and paying over $27 billion in salaries. Those jobs are exactly the kind of jobs we should be cultivating to make California and the U.S. an innovation and economic powerhouses for decades to come.

The advances in cancer research made at biomedical companies across our state would not be possible without patent protection. Our industry is one of innovation and invention and it needs a patent system that supports those actions, not one that threatens them.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. Congress can and should take the time to get the latest patent reform bill right. Senate leaders have indicated a desire to address these problems. House leaders should hit the pause button until they, too, find a solution. A failure to preserve our strong patent system would be a blow to our role as the world’s leader in innovation. We must not allow that to happen.

Hastings is Chairman and CEO of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, a Redwood City-based biotechnology company. Hastings is also a member of the CLSA Board of Directors.

the op-ed at the San Francisco Business Times (subscription may be required).