Through their strategic litigation work opposing unjust patents, I-MAK has enabled competition and dramatically reduced costs for country health systems. But while I-MAK has made significant progress, it believes the movement to increase access to lifesaving medicines is not as impactful as it could be because the playing field is not level. Individual patent challenges can only do so much in the face of an infinitely resourced pharmaceutical industry, and a patent system calcified in private interests and unaccountable to the public.
Priti has come to realize that, while adversarial litigation is sometimes necessary, I-MAK has to keep pushing boundaries by disrupting and transforming the system itself. To that end, she and I-MAK are moving their work upstream and embarking on a new phase aimed at addressing the underlying power dynamics of the global patent system at its nerve center in the U.S.
Because everyone is touched by the patent system in one way or another, ensuring that people and communities are the agents of this structural change is a core part of I-MAK’s strategy. Where historically individuals concerned about drug affordability have not had meaningful ways of learning about or engaging with the patent system, Priti has been able to disrupt this paradigm by carving out new avenues for citizens, civil society, and even private sector actors to step into their role as a changemakers. By empathetically seeking common ground even with industry players who believe that patents are the just reward for pharmaceutical research, Priti is bringing new and vital allies into the fight for more accessible healthcare.
Ultimately, Priti envisions a movement of citizen sector organizations, researchers, policy makers, think tank media, and affected communities who can participate fully in the patent process and build momentum for broad based patent reform, guided at every step by I-MAK’s in-depth investigations, educational tools, and narrative change initiatives. She is modeling this work after bipartisan efforts for criminal justice reform and the 2015 campaign for net neutrality. Like patent reform, these movements center on complex policy issues. But through the sustained efforts of advocates from across the political spectrum, they were eventually able to shift entrenched media narratives, change public discourse, and catalyze policy reform.
I-MAK’s strategy centers on its “RAISE” platform, which includes:
1. Raising the bar for “innovation”: The vast majority of medicines associated with new drug patents are not new. Nearly 8 out of 10 are for existing ones, like insulin or aspirin, or combining two medicines into one pill. Priti and I-MAK are seeking to address the issue of overpatenting (too many patents being applied for and granted) with a simple solution: to get a patent, you have to invent something that is new and substantially better than what's already out there.
2. More public participation: Priti envisions a patent office that serves as a truly public institution; a dynamic center of citizen learning and ingenuity staffed, not just by technical experts and bureaucrats, but by ethicists, public health experts and storytellers who can demystify complex policy questions and allow people to engage on issues that affect them deeply—including by providing inputs into significant policy questions and contesting patents in court. In the U.S. after a patent is granted, the public has no legal standing to challenge it in court. Only entities with a commercial interest, usually other drug corporations, have that right. Just gaining access to information about patent filings is cost prohibitive, making the patent office a virtual black box. As patient data is increasingly shared via mobile apps and private ventures like 23andMe, Priti and I-MAK are driving the public conversation around “ownership” and patents, not just for medicines but also for patient data and genetic information.
3. Independent adjudication and oversight: Right now, the patent office’s revenue is directly related to the number of patents it grants, incentivizing examiners to grant as many patents as possible. Moreover, many patent examiners and judges are recruited from the pharmaceutical industry and, when they leave the patent office, regularly find work with the companies whose patent cases they were charged with adjudicating. Priti is working to end the corporate capture of the patent office – including by creating an oversight body charged with ensuring that patent applications are adjudicated fairly and independently of financial and other concerns, and that problematic patenting trends that negatively affect the public are elevated quickly to the appropriate channels.
These efforts are gaining traction. Priti and I-MAK’s movement building efforts and research (like its 2018 report “Overpatented, Overpriced”) have already helped shape four bills that have been introduced addressing aspects of how patents are used to block competition. Now, Priti is building on this momentum to galvanize even broader based systemic change.