Boston University School of Law

Will Longer Antimicrobial Patents Improve Global Public Health?

Kevin Outterson, Julie Balch Samora, Karen Keller-Cuda

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 07-22


The problem of antimicrobial resistance has led some infectious disease experts and their professional societies to propose the use of transferable intellectual property rights (wildcard patents) and patent term extensions as methods to encourage antimicrobial R&D. We evaluate recent approvals of new antimicrobial classes and find the number of new introductions is higher than previously suggested. More importantly, creating new patent rights is shown to be an inefficient and possibly counterproductive response to antimicrobial resistance. Wildcard patents would operate as a more than US$40 billion annual tax on heart disease, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and depression to inefficiently cross-subsidize antimicrobial R&D. Patent term extensions would likewise cost more than US$5 billion per year, hinder access, and allocate resources inefficiently. Alternative public funding of antimicrobial research could be a more effective use of these funds. Conservation efforts to encourage the prudent use of antimicrobial drugs should be directly reimbursed. Patent owners should be compensated for both conservation efforts and valuable innovation.

Keywords: intellectual property, antimicrobial resistance, wildcard patents, patent extensions

JEL Classifications: I11, I18, K29, O34

SSRN Accepted Paper Series

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Suggested Citation:

Lancet Infectious Diseases, Vol. 7, pp. 559-566, 2007

Kevin Outterson Contact Information

Boston University School of Law

765 Commonwealth Avenue

Boston, MA 02215

Email address:

Office Phone: (617) 353-3135


Julie Balch Samora

West Virginia University School of Medicine, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology


Karen Keller-Cuda

West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia