By Lydia Kuykendal, Mercy Investment Services Drug costs in the United States remain one of the main reasons Americans have the world’s most expensive health care. Intellectual property protections on branded drugs play an important role in maintaining high prices and impeding widescale access to medicine. Intellectual property describes the rights to creative and intellectual efforts and includes copyright, designs, patents, and trademarks. In the pharmaceutical industry, this often involves patents that cover manufacturing processes, dosing regimens, and product formulations. When patent protection on a drug ends, generic manufacturers can enter the market with a lower-priced formulation that generally results in increased access to the consumer. For this reason, branded drug manufacturers often deploy a variety of strategies to delay generic competition and extend their exclusivity periods. This year, the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ shareholder resolution at pharmaceutical companies addresses a major factor in these costs: the pharmaceutical industry’s patent practices – specifically, patent thickets. Patent thickets are the practice of applying for and amassing multiple patents on a single product. Pharma companies create these thickets of dozens to even more than 100 patents around a single product to intimidate and sue their potential competitors out of the market. This lack of market competition raises prices, with U.S. prices for branded drugs nearly 3.5 times higher than in 32 member countries of the Organizations for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The cost makes many prescriptions unaffordable, and nearly 1 in 3 Americans has opted not to fill a prescription – or to split pills, ration doses, or take an over-the-counter drug instead – because of the cost. This pricing structure is devastating to patients who rely on these medicines. In some cases, their lives depend on access to these medicines. Sister Judy Byron, OP “Members of Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have been engaging the pharma sector for decades to advocate for changes in policies and practices that will increase the access and affordability of medicines,” said Sister Judy Byron, OP, of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, which led the filing of the proposal at Gilead Sciences. Gilead manufactures medications used to treat COVID-19, HIV, cancers, and more. “These patent practices erect barriers to access that clearly prioritize company profits over people's health. As shareholders, we view this as fundamentally at odds with the purported missions of our companies.” This resolution asks four pharmaceutical companies to explain how their patenting strategies impact patient access and to enhance their disclosures of the relationship between patents and patient access. We seek to understand whether companies consider access and affordability when applying for additional patents on a product. The resolution received significant shareholder support at Pfizer (30.2%) and moderate support at Gilead Sciences (16.5%), Johnson & Johnson (14.4%), and Eli Lilly (10.4%). The Portfolio Advisory Board will continue to use these shareholder votes to push companies to ensure access and affordability of their products.