When Patents are Sovereigns: The Competitive Harms of Leasing Tribal Immunity

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Under the Hatch-Waxman and America Invents Acts, Congress has established a system for judicial and administrative review of prescription-drug patents that balances exclusive rights for patent holders and the entry of generic competitors. Threatening this balance, the pharmaceutical company Allergan recently transferred prescription drug patents to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, a federally recognized Indian tribe. Because tribal sovereign immunity limits the jurisdiction of courts and other adjudicatory bodies to hear cases involving tribal interests, such actions by brand-name pharmaceutical companies may prevent generic companies and other parties from invalidating patents, likely leading to higher drug prices.

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