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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Patent protection vital to state, patients

The Columbian
Published: July 19, 2015, 12:00am

Apple recently released a new app — ResearchKit — that could allow millions of patients to locate and participate in clinical trials through their iPhones. Seattle-based nonprofit Sage Bionetworks helped create the game-changing technology. The crowd-sourced data is already improving researchers’ understanding of deadly diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and breast cancer.

This technology is emblematic of the medical innovation taking place across Washington. Biopharmaceutical research promises new treatments for serious diseases and creates jobs from Seattle to Spokane. To ensure this research succeeds, Washington’s representatives in Congress must push back against a new law that threatens innovation.

Biopharmaceutical research has helped raise the average life expectancy in Washington to nearly 80 years. That’s over a decade longer than the average American life span in 1950. New treatments and therapies give patients the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives.

To develop those new medicines, researchers must test drugs in clinical trials. Washington is home to 1,300 such trials. For instance, CisThera, a Bellevue firm, is working on a therapy to block tumor growth.

In 2013, biopharmaceutical firms plowed more than $164 million into Washington’s clinical trials. These trials had a $410 million impact on the Evergreen State’s economy.

However, a patent reform law from the nation’s capital could wipe away the medical and economic progress researchers have made. Congress is currently debating the “Innovation Act,” which is supposed to increase the legal burden on “patent trolls.” These trolls are people or companies who shake down businesses for settlement money by filing dubious patent lawsuits.

But the Innovation Act doesn’t just target trolls. The bill’s provisions will create trouble even for legitimate inventors trying to enforce their patents. Biopharmaceutical companies in particular depend on patents, which grant inventors a period of exclusive ownership during which only they can sell the newly created drug.

Strong patents give firms time to earn back the money they spend developing a medicine. If research firms can’t enforce their patents, they’ll have no chance of realizing a return on their investment. So they’ll stop investing in new research. That’s bad for Washington communities that depend on research spending. It’s even worse for patients whose health depends on medical breakthroughs.

In recent years, it has become more difficult to enforce a patent and stop infringers from copying an innovator’s idea. Patent disputes that were formerly resolved in court can now be taken to a patent review board. This board routinely invalidates patents — even legitimate ones that experienced patent judges would have left standing.

Successfully defending a patented invention would become even more difficult if Congress passes the Innovation Act. The law will increase the cost of filing a patent lawsuit against infringers. And if the added cost doesn’t discourage innovators from defending their patents, the law’s other provisions might. Patent holders would be forced to reveal private corporate information as part of the law’s disclosure requirements.

Evergreen State patients and workers need their representatives in Washington, D.C., to resist the Innovation Act, which would weaken patents and discourage investment in biopharmaceutical research. Medical innovation is a major source of jobs in our state. This sector will continue to flourish — but only with the right incentives.

Blake A. Ilstrup is general counsel and senior vice president of business development at Kineta, Inc., a biotechnology company Seattle.