Enlarge / Allergan CEO Brenton Saunders addresses employees at a production facility in Pringy, France. (credit: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Congress want answers about a multinational drug company’s deal to save its patents by handing them off to a Native American tribe.
Last month, Allergan gave the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe six patents that protect Restasis, the company’s blockbuster eye drug.

The goal is a sophisticated legal strategy to avoid having the US Patent Office proceed with a process called inter partes review, which is a kind of quasi-litigation in which opponents of a patent can try to have them revoked. Lawyers for Allergan are hoping that the principle of sovereign immunity, in which Native American tribes are treated as sovereign nations in certain ways, will protect their patents from government review.
The strategy may well succeed. IPR proceedings against patents held by public universities have been canceled on at least two occasions, when the Patent Trial and Appeals Board held that the universities benefit from sovereign immunity because they are state actors. The St. Regis Mohawk tribe will be paid an annual royalty of $15 million as long as the patents are valid.
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