Longer life for drugs patent


By BARRY FOX Britain’s patent office has awarded the first extension to a drugs patent under a European regulation which overrides British law. The extension was granted to Scotia Pharmaceuticals for its patent covering an ointment for seborrhoeic dermatitis. The Patents Act 1977 provides for a 20-year life for all British patents and does not allow any extensions. This benefits the NHS because drugs are cheaper after patents on them have expired. But pharmaceuticals companies say the safety tests needed to win approval often take so long that the patent runs out before they recoup their investment in research. In January 1992, under pressure from the companies, the European Commission brought in a regulation that obliges patent offices in member states to extend the life of a drugs patent if testing has reduced its earning potential. The patent owner must show proof of a delay between applying for the patent and gaining first approval for sale in the European Community. The patent office must then grant an extension of up to five years, for a ten-year delay. The inventor has to go through the same procedure in all 12 member countries,
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