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Pharmaceutical Patent Transfer as a Strategy for Tribal Economic Self Sufficiency: A Case Study Among the Saint Regis Mohawk Community

Nielsen, Johanna James
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In September of 2017 the Allergan pharmaceutical company transferred their patent for Restasis eye drops to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Their intention was to protect their lucrative patent through utilization of the tribe’s sovereign immunity, preventing generic versions of Restasis from being produced. In exchange they were to pay the tribe $13.75 million dollars upfront as well as $15 million in royalties annually to lease the patent back to Allergan. This business deal ignited a legal controversy on the international stage, and in February of 2018 the United States Supreme Court rejected this transaction, claiming that the St. Regis Mohawk’s may not use their sovereign immunity status to protect a patent. Drawing on extensive research that includes a content analysis of St. Regis Mohawk social media sites, newspaper and scholarly articles, and legal briefs about the Supreme Court, this paper explores the way Tribal leaders and community members presented this deal and understood the opportunity for their community. The Mohawk tribe articulated an intention to help alleviate poverty and economic despair with the funds. This research offers an interesting paradigm on the usage of sovereign immunity and speaks to the broader issues of self-determination in light of corporate influence.
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Keywords
Sovereign Immunity , Native American , Pharmaceutical , Self sufficiency , Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe , Akwesasne Reservation
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