The Biden administration favors a proposal to waive patent protections for the COVID-19 vaccines. But there are other ways to remove impediments to pharmaceuticals that would accelerate development of lifesaving drugs and improve access. Bold reforms of intellectual-property law and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are required.
For example, the mandate of the FDA should be changed to require it to evaluate and certify only the safety of a proposed new drug, not its efficacy. Such a change would keep dangerous drugs off the market but allow safe drugs to be distributed sooner. That way, people who could benefit from new drugs could obtain them faster, cutting the time in which manufacturers were left uncompensated for their efforts. This reform would reduce the high cost of drug development.
If the FDAs mandate was scaled back to safety, not efficacy, and uncompensated costs fell, a case could be made for shortening the duration of pharmaceutical patents. Patent holders are typically granted protection for up to 20 years from the date of filing. Shortening the patent term would also reduce the incentive for so-called patent trolls to file frivolous patent applications and lawsuits with no intention to use the patent productively, a costly obstacle to innovation.