The pharmaceutical industry has, of late, been especially prominent in the public eye. This may be partly explained by the Martin Shkreli incident, in which a Big Pharma CEO raised the price of a vital HIV medication by more than 5,000%, from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. Since this high-profile scandal broke, the American public has been deep in conversation about the ethics of the industry. For our next great patent battle matchup, we're going to be taking a look at two giants of an industry--Merck and Pfizer.

Merck traces its history to founding in Germany by the Merck family in 1668, making it the world's oldest operating pharmaceutical company. Merck has contributed to a number of healthcare innovations over the course of its long existence, including the first vaccines against mumps and rubella, and for its publication of the Merck Manuals, the world's best selling medical manual. A considerably younger competitor, Pfizer was founded in New York City in 1849 by cousins Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart. It has produced a number of popular (and somewhat controversial) drugs, including Viagra, Zoloft, and Chantix. Among its consumer care products are Advil, Centrum, and Chapstick.

Just like any other industry, the pharmaceutical industry wants to protect its groundbreaking innovations through intellectual property laws. Using Juristat’s Marketing Reports and data provided by the USPTO, we measured the effectiveness of each company’s patent prosecution efforts through five key metrics: allowance rate, average number of office actions, average speed to disposition, and average number of independent and dependent claims lost. Below are some illustrations that demonstrate our findings.


As the data indicates, Merck comes out ahead in every metric of patent prosecution we measured, although its advantage varies greatly. The most dramatic difference is between allowance rates, with Merck having an allowance rate 20 percentage points higher than Pfizer. The difference between average number of office actions is also rather large, with Merck receiving almost an entire office action less than Pfizer per application. These differences become less dramatic in average speed to disposition and average number of claims lost. Merck's average prosecution timeline is only two months shorter than Pfizer's, and it retains  almost 0.2 more independent claims and 0.7 more dependent claims than Pfizer, on average.