back to article Brexit: Leaving the EU could trigger UK science patent law rejig

Some aspects of patent law of relevance to life sciences companies could come back under the control of UK law makers if the UK votes to leave the EU. The UK market could be effectively closed to parallel imports and, by the adoption of appropriate legislation, the UK could remove uncertainty and encourage investment in the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Parallel imports"

    The US rules that make it very hard for legal drug makers to obtain US import licences are what enabled that guy to raise the price of a drug by over 50 times. Notice that wasn't illegal; he has been arrested for possible securities fraud, not for price gouging.

    Pinsent Mason seem to be leaving is with the implication that if we leave the EU, the NHS will suffer as the pharma companies use the absence of EU competition law to raise drug prices. That absence of competition law will also allow other companies to create monopolies. Nice for friends of the Conservatives.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: "Parallel imports"

      the Prescription Price Regulation Scheme exists to stop British pharma ramping up branded medicine prices quickly

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Parallel imports"

        "the Prescription Price Regulation Scheme exists to stop British pharma ramping up branded medicine prices quickly"

        That's what I call a weasel, since it still doesn't address the issue of protectionism.

  2. Warm Braw Silver badge

    "Grey" imports in general

    Not just patents, trademark owners, who seem to have established that they're able to control who sells their good. are only prevented from banning "grey" imports from Europe by the single market.

    Only relative personal good for a few will result from the free movement of capital and the rights of corporations being elevated above the free movement of labour and the rights of everyone else.

  3. EastFinchleyite

    Brexit bites

    "If the UK had a complete exit from the EU and was not subject to the rules on the free movement of goods then it could become easier for drugs manufacturers to prevent other businesses exploiting price differences between the UK and other European countries. "

    So, under the post Brexit conditions,

    - if the UK drug price was lower than EU countries we could be prevented from exporting to those countries - reduced drug sales for UK companies

    - if the UK price was higher than EU countries UK retailers could be prevented from parallel import of cheaper drugs - higher prices for the NHS and consumers.

    Yay! Big win for Brexit

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Brexit bites

      And don't forget all the extra regulatory redtape and associated legal bullshit that pharmaceuticals and other exporter / imports would be suffer under. Just because the UK leaves the EU doesn't mean the bureaucracy disappears - it actually doubles.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Brexit bites

        If there's a sector known for not suffering globally I'd have thought it would be "big pharma". It's everywhere, like a disease...

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Brexit bites

        Currently going through FDA approval for a product by comparison Eu approval was a breeze

        If we had to do the same level of FDA for a single country it wouldn't be worth it for the UK. We just wouldn't sell there.

    2. jcdude

      Re: Brexit bites

      My thoughts as well - have an upvote. The other thing that always strikes me most about Brexit is that it will be a huge win (in terms of chargeable hours/years) for the many UK lawyers and bureaucrats (and presumably highly paid consultants) needed to sort out this kind of legal quagmire. After the dust has settled, will it have been worth it?

  4. Brenda McViking
    Meh

    Aside from these articles being hard to read

    I'm not sure they even make sense. It's claimed that the EEA provides the restrictions. The EEA is NOT the EU. Our membership of the EU has little effect on the rules we'll follow in the EEA, because it is a different supranational body. It's bloody confusing, but it also is kind of key to the article, isn't it?: Supranational european bodies (Wikipedia)

    So "intellectual property rights owners that place their goods for sale in one country within the European Economic Area (EEA) generally cannot use their intellectual property rights to prevent these goods from being bought and sold within the EEA." will be completely unaffected by a brexit, unless my understanding is flawed.

    As for the proposed advantages of the loss of price arbitration if we leave the EU, that's an advantage to whom, exactly? arbitration is actually a good thing, economically. It means the consumers aren't screwed by artificial price differences from place to place - so your average UK national is only charged £10 for antihistamines the same as your average French national is charged 13EUR Rather than say, £500 and 20c where some guy pays and the other guy freeloads.

    Now in medicines, I agree we do need some dampeners on arbitration due to the fact that the third world cannot afford the development costs to do with drugs and the first world can. By all means vaccinate in both - I'm happy for the first world to pay 3x as much for their vaccines to cover the cost of vaccinating the third world as well. It benefits the human race as a whole. But the EU is comprised of largely 1st world countries. Price arbitration between the lot of us is surely the fairest way to do it? Why would we vote to leave for this reason?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why would we vote to leave for this reason?

      Don't worry, that's not the reason you're being called to vote for.

      The reason you're being called to vote for is that some influential group thinks they will benefit and they have the clout to get it done. Whatever "reasons" are being pushed forward are just pennants in the wind for the clueless to be distracted by while the powerful manoeuver to pocket a few more billion here and there.

      Whatever the result of the vote is, the same issue will crop up again under a different name in a few years to reverse the result of this vote for exactly the same reasons : some group expects to profit from it. It may even be the same group as today.

    2. P. Lee

      Re: Aside from these articles being hard to read

      That's what hit me immediately when reading the article: "The EEA is NOT the EU."

      No-one is suggesting leaving the EEA.

      It's almost as if someone feels the need to frighten people into voting to stay and will use any and all means to do it. When I see this steady stream of this kind of article - "Bad Things Will Happen!" which we'll pretend is to do with leaving the EU but isn't. I assume that when intelligent, informed people make these kinds of errors it is intentional and supports some agenda which they don't want to tell me about but which would be spoilt if the vote goes the "wrong" way.

      Hmmm, hidden agenda's and a lack of transparency? That doesn't win my vote.

      1. rcp27

        Re: Aside from these articles being hard to read

        "No-one is suggesting leaving the EEA"

        Are you sure? I'm certainly not. I am yet to hear a coherent statement about what a "leave" vote means. No campaigner on the "leave" side that I have heard of has made a clear statement about what a "leave" vote means regarding EEA, EFTA, ECHR or any of the other not-quite-EU organisations with E in the initialism. As being part of the "free movement of people" is an element of EEA membership, and as many "leave" campaigners cite restricting the rights of foreigners to live and work in the UK as among the implications of a "leave" vote, that indicates that they at least believe a vote for "leave" would very definitely involve leaving the EEA.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Aside from these articles being hard to read

          @ rcp27

          "Are you sure? I'm certainly not. I am yet to hear a coherent statement about what a "leave" vote means."

          A leave vote means we get to choose. Our own leadership, our own laws, our own choices. How do you describe freedom? How do you describe choice, especially to people who have forgotten what it is. The coherent statement is that we are free to run our own country.

          However I point out that there is no coherent statement of what 'remain' means. The EU is failing badly (only the fanatics ignore this fact) and so needs to change to survive. Leaping crisis to crisis is not sustainable so hopefully the EU will fix its fledgeling problems. But also there is further politically desired change of 'ever closer union' which seems to suggest some sort of United States of Europe (or even the EUSSR as Germany fears and wants our vote to oppose). There is a serious political problem too where countries are ignoring the EU rules and doing as they please, as well as concerning deals of bringing Turkey into the EU.

          If the EU stays as it is it will fail. It needs to change to survive. What those changes will be nobody knows because the desired changes of the politicians are not acceptable to the populations who are considerably turning to anti-EU parties.

          It has been a hard fight for the UK to finally get to vote on this after promises from both labour and tory for a referendum if they get in (and both lied). And of course the gov is backing the remain campaign while we are told of ever increasing numbers of losses in jobs and money if we give the wrong answer. But the doom and gloom stories were also spouted for not joining the Euro and look at what luck that was to avoid.

          The only certainty of being in or out is change. The question is should we be able to vote for our direction or not.

          1. rcp27

            Re: Aside from these articles being hard to read

            "A leave vote means we get to choose. Our own leadership, our own laws, our own choices."

            No, a leave vote means the Westminster elite oxbridge-party researcher-MP and their big corporate sponsors get to chose. In the event of a "leave" vote, I expect the degree to which an ordinary voter will get to influence the laws will change from bugger all to sweet F-A.

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: Aside from these articles being hard to read

              @ rcp27

              "No, a leave vote means the Westminster elite oxbridge-party researcher-MP and their big corporate sponsors get to chose. In the event of a "leave" vote, I expect the degree to which an ordinary voter will get to influence the laws will change from bugger all to sweet F-A."

              Who you vote for. As UKIP proved, you dont need to vote for the same old same old. And you can do this with any party standing! Of course if you vote for the same as before that is what you get. To vote for what we get and then cry about it is amusing but only in its madness. I never understand people who make this complaint.

              However your statement rings true for staying in the EU. We wont get a choice (its been this hard to get this vote!) and our vote truly is worthless.

              If your argument is that we have no say over our laws then you are arguing against the EU. Because as little as you claim we have over our gov we have even less over the EU.

  5. Doctor_Wibble
    Devil

    As a matter of principle... "aargh"...

    i.e. not politics, this is becoming my usual comment on the matter:

    TLDR: "oh god oh god we're all going to die" which and I can't stress this enough, is the argument used by both sides, one on the basis of 'immediate national suicide' and the other on the basis of 'slow economic strangulation'.

    #ogogwagtd

    We have the triumph of hope over experience on one side versus the triumph of experience over hope on the other but I'm not sure which way round that should be.

  6. Patrician

    The main thing I got from that was:- "Brexit will mean pharmaceuticals in the UK will become more expensive (making more profits for UK companies and their, mostly, Tory shareholders) so the cost of prescriptions will increase".

    And how is this a good thing exactly?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Shareholders

      What about the financial institutions who invest in companies like GSK on behalf of your pension fund?

      Lower returns on income (dividends) and capital(share price) means a lower pension for everyone.

      AFAIK, the main shareholders are the pension funds. Many of which are Union run. Thay are hardly Tory now are they?

      1. ToddR

        Re: Shareholders

        Steve,

        No pension fund is union run. The money was raised form the union members, but funds are run by very well paid card carrying capitalists and thank god for that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Shareholders

          > No pension fund is union run

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Teachers%27_Pension_Plan

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Teachers%27_Federation

          Not exactly a union, but "a professional organization representing approx. 179,000 teachers in Ontario, Canada. All teachers in publicly funded Ontario schools are required by law to be members of the federation"

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Shareholders

            a professional organization representing approx. 179,000 teachers in Ontario, Canada

            Not exactly relevant to the subject at hand is it?

            I'm pretty sure the OP was referring to UK pension funds, as the article is about what might happen to UK companies. Pension funds in Canada have about as much bearing on the discussion as what sort of chocolate egg my niece got at Easter. I'm also pretty sure you would also know that, so what is your point exactly?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > so the cost of prescriptions will increase

      Except that the prescription charge is not related to the cost of drugs.

      The government is free to raise the prescription charge (and frequently does), independently of any increase (or indeed decrease) in the cost of drugs.

      1. Alien8n Silver badge

        @AC the issue is not the cost to us in prescription charges, but rather the cost to the NHS in rising drug prices. We ourselves won't see any real increase apart from the usual annual increase in the prescription fees. The NHS however will be forced into yet another round of "cost savings" as the cost of running the NHS will increase manyfold.

  7. Wolfclaw

    Brexit is good for the UK and to hell with the EU. Our future trading lies with the Far East !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Our future trading lies with the Far East !"

      As an importer. And what will we use to pay for the imports?

    2. Len

      If our future trading is with the Far East why isn't it currently? There are several other EU countries which have considerably more trade with the Far East than the UK. There must be a reason that Britain doesn't trade that much with the Far East, the reason can't be EU membership as other EU members are demonstrating.

      Britain currently has a current account deficit of 7%. Its highest in 244 years! (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/03/31/britain-courts-fate-on-brexit-with-worst-external-deficit-in-his/) This means that the UK imports considerably more than it exports. Unless this changes Britain's money will run out...

      1. ToddR

        Len,

        We cannot sign our own trade agreements as EU members. These are done centrally by Brussels. This is not well known by UK general public, I wonder why?

        1. Len

          Of course they are negotiated as a bloc, negotiating on behalf of a market of 500 million people is a lot stronger than on behalf of a market of 60 million people.

          But that's not the point. Why would Britain suddenly improve trading with the Far East when it leaves the EU? Plenty of EU members outperform the UK when it comes to international trade (both with the Far East and with other parts of the world) so the current trade agreements are not the reason why Britain performs poorly.

          Britain just needs to get better at producing goods or services that people in other countries want. Until it does that I don't expect Britain's current account deficit to significantly improve, with or without Brexit.*

          * Of course, leaving the EU is projected to reduce the value of Sterling by about 15 - 20% but I'm not a firm believer in devaluing currency for the benefit of the medium or long term. The effects are only temporary and, worse still (look at how Greece got into its current mess, devaluing the Drachma instead of structurally improving the economy – until its eurozone membership put a stop to that trick), devaluation tends to kick the can of structural improvements down the road.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        >If our future trading is with the Far East why isn't it currently?

        There must be a reason that Germany has a trade surplus with China and sells it all the robots used to make iPhones. While Britain has a trade deficit and buys all the iPhones.

        It's probably because of immigrants/unions/red-tape

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Proove it !

    The UK uses NHS negotiated pricing for drugs and it's quite often the flow goes from the UK to elsewhere as the NHS negotiated price is much lower.

    What about the NHS tourists costing us a bomb ?

    More Brexit bullshit.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Proove it !

      [Citation Needed]

  9. Rol Silver badge

    Divide and conquer

    That has always been the British way of keeping the serfs too busy to see they're being fleeced.

    The EU and its namby pamby, caring for the populous, commie tripe, flies in the face of capitalism and Tarquin's inherited right to fuck the poor as and when he wishes.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Divide and conquer

      Yeah, the EU is great at caring for the populous! It must have just been a mistake when they deliberately crippled the Greek economy last year, in order to screw them down in some particularly unpleasant negotations, plunging the country back into recession. Funny definition of caring...

      Not that the EU is the fount of all evil or anything. This was just as much about German/Dutch/Finish/Slovak internal politcs, as Greek government incompetence. And is only a symptom of the fact that the Euro doesn't, and can't, work as currently constituted and desperately needs fixing or putting out of everyone's misery.

      But this pathetic pretence that someone the UK are uniquely self-interested, and everyone else in the EU are just desperate to be fluffy and lovely, if only we'd stop being so awkward - well it's deeply annoying. As well as being massive bollocks.

      If we leave, it should be because we're willing to pay a probably small price for more political accountability and democratic control. There's a chance we may profit out of it too, but I'd imagine that the differences either way will be small - as we're still going to want to trade with them, and they with us. Whatever happens, in or out, is a messy compromise - as so much of politics is. The EU has recently shown itself capable of staggering incompetence and nastiness though, particularly with the Eurozone and refugee crises - so please don't try to pretend that either side has any kind of moral high ground. Also the Eurogroup and European Central Bank have effectively brought down 3 elected governments in the last 4 years, Italy once and Greece twice. All three times deliberately. We're not in the Euro, so probably safe from that kind of meddling, but the Eurocrisis will probably see me voting out.

      As for this story, the operative word is "could". Anything could happen. If we leave we'll be subject to the outcome of some very long, and complicated negotiations. I doubt a lot will change in the short term. Things that have come through EU laws won't all magically disappear. Some we'll have to keep, as the price to get the trading relationships we'll want, some we'll chose to keep, some may change over time. We want pharmaceuticals companies to make decent profits, so they'll invest in new drugs and the expensive regulatory systems we choose to have to try to make them safe. We want differential pricing, to allow the developing world access to drugs that they couldn't otherwise afford, even though this means we pay more for AIDS drugs than Africa for example. Our future governments may make changes and screw things up, but the EU have shown themselves perfectly capable of screwing up too. The big advantage of a smaller democracy is that it's easier to change stuff back. The disadvantage of the EU is that it's so big, and it takes so long to negotiate stuff, that it's very hard to change policy.

      1. Len

        Re: Divide and conquer

        While I see your point on some of the things you raise, I don't see how Britain would suddenly become a beacon of democracy after leaving the EU.

        Leaving the EU will not suddenly allow all Britons to elect the Head of State, the Cabinet, the House of Lords, the Civil Service or their mayor. It will not suddenly give Britain an independent electoral watch dog, secret elections or more representative and less corrupt MPs. It will still allow MPs to retain their seat when they join Government (instead of checking Government) and it will still mean a party can run the country on a "majority" of 30% of the popular vote.

        In short, post-Brexit, any position with serious influence in the UK will likely still be appointed instead of elected so I don't see much change there.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Divide and conquer

          Len,

          Nope. Leaving the EU doesn't make our democracy better. Although we could change it if we chose to. And not all the aspects you complain about are particularly relevant. The head of state has extremely limted powers and the Lords are more a delaying and revising chamber. Both do a pretty good job, and if either become politically controversial know that their days are numbered.

          The downsides of a more independent (and therefore less politically accountable) civil service need to be offset against the downsides of having more political control of them - as happens in the US for example.

          But finally the EU is more undemocratic. Not because it's an evil conspiracy, but because it doesn't contain a demos. There is no homogenous electorate, and so even if the European Parliament did have proper power, it still wouldn't work that well.

          But one of the things you can do in Britain is to "vote the bums out!" Something not possible in the politically fractured EU. And if you don't like an EU decision it's therefore very hard to reverse. The EU is too big and unweildy to be democratic, unless the people of Europe were a lot more united (and culturally/politically similar) than they actually are.

          The Eurozone crisis has I think shown the political limits of the EU. We more-or-less happily move cash to the rest of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to make up for the fact that sterling suits the South East better. The Eurozone politically cannot do that yet, becuase the peoples of Europe don't feel they're part of one group. Until that changes the EU cannot be democratic, because people will only vote in their own interest. Thus Greece and Cyprus got fucked, and to a lesser extent Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Divide and conquer

            " Not because it's an evil conspiracy, but because it doesn't contain a demos. There is no homogenous electorate, and so even if the European Parliament did have proper power, it still wouldn't work that well."

            Even worse. Since the UK vote in the '70s all the treaty revisions have gone through virtually on the nod. Hardly any country has been given the chance to hold a referendum on what were, in fact, constitutional changes. And what happened when Ireland was given a chance to vote on the Lisbon treaty was hardly a ringing endorsement on the role of democracy in the EU. Referenda should have been held to endorse or otherwise the treaty revisions. The new treaties might have been different if the negotiators had been aware that they'd have had to face their electorates.

            On the whole I'm in favour of staying in the EU but it has built up a huge democratic deficit over the years and I wouldn't be surprised if "leave" were to win.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Divide and conquer

        "Yeah, the EU is great at caring for the populous! It must have just been a mistake when they deliberately crippled the Greek economy last year, in order to screw them down in some particularly unpleasant negotations, plunging the country back into recession. Funny definition of caring..."

        An unfortunate but inevitable consequence of suspending disbelief to admit Greece to the Eurozone in the first place. Disbelief can be suspended - reality is a different matter.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Big Pharma is a subset of biological sciences, which itself is a subset of science. Drug development is really science industrialised on a large scale, so the companies involved are necessarily large, in order to be able to make the gamble involved in developing new drugs (most of which never make it to market and if they do may or may not recoup their development costs). However, to ignore the other 99% of things that come under the umbrella term of science, and all the medical research done by universities and charities does them a great disservice.

    This article seems to imply that 'science' means big corporations like GSK and AstraZeneca. To most research scientists, however, these companies represent business, not science. To present the impact to these companies of a possible 'Brexit' as the impact on science is misleading at best.

  12. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "Leaving the EU could trigger UK science patent law rejig".

    Good.

    If only it could undo that blight on humanity that has brought us to a new low and threatens our very sanity. I speak, of course, of the horror that is the "reasoning" that led to Windows 8 & 10.

  13. Yes Me Silver badge

    Stemming the flow...

    "If the UK leaves the EU, patent owners may have a real opportunity to stem the flow of patented products into and out of the UK."

    They may have a real opportunity to protect their monopoly rents. And this is a good thing exactly why?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just plain wrong....

    Some of the commentary in this article is just plain wrong.

    Firstly, the European Patent Convention is not at all related to the European Union and so existing European patent rights will be wholly unaffected by any Brexit.

    Secondly the government has already stated its intention to ratify the UPC around the middle of this year - possibly even before the Brexit vote. In the Commons debates on the statutory instruments for ratification and implementation of the UPC it is clear that the outcome of the Brexit vote will not affect the UPC ratification process per se. The UPC itself would, of course, ultimately suffer should the UK exit the EU.

  15. WibbleMe

    Make all patents "Open" saving the only people to benefit from paterns ​are shareholders, consumers pay a lot just towards covering the cost of paterns ​in consumer goods. If companies can use any tec they like in their products then this will allow a huge saving in non-replaceable materials and energy costs.

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