Healthcare costs were a major issue during the Democratic primaries, but drug pricing (and patents more generally) received comparatively little attention. But, with Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate, it’s worth examining some comments made by Harris on the subject of drug patents.
Last November, she commented that she would “snatch” drug patents.
Harris, like Warren, tells her audience about using presidential powers to to make drugs cheaper.
If they resist: “I will snatch their patent so we can take over.”
Someone in the audience asks “can we do that?”
“Yes, we can do that! We just need the will to do that.” pic.twitter.com/DXT84eTKjQ
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 23, 2019
In a separate town hall she promised to “take” the patents of pharmaceutical companies with drugs developed with public financing.
The latter quote is a clear reference to the march-in rights under the Bayh-Dole Act, while the former is a little bit more ambiguous. She could also have been referring to 28 USC 1498, a broader power that allows the federal government to license the use of a patent so long as it pays the patent holder a reasonable royalty.
While needing the “will” and not necessarily legislation to get lower drug prices is definitely forceful rhetoric, this characterization is accurate. These are powers which the government unquestionably possesses (it has used Section 1498 in the past) but has been disinclined to exercise in recent decades.
It’s good to have a candidate who has been on the record about using current law to address prescription drug affordability and access. I would object to using “snatch” to describe the policy–partly due to the aggressive rhetoric but mostly because there’s a difference between compulsory licensing and taking a patent. Regardless, it’s nice to see a candidate taking the issue so seriously and making concrete proposals to address it.