Wealth Inequality and “The Case of the Problematic Patent:” An Experiential Classroom Exercise


  • Craig B. Barkacs
  • Linda L. Barkacs


As academic topics go, wealth inequality tends to be seen by students as relevant and interesting, whereas intellectual property is more inclined toward mixed reviews. Without a doubt, the study of intellectual property is extremely important, multifaceted, and replete with legal and ethical issues. Nevertheless, the classroom rollout of intellectual property can come off as exceedingly abstract, overly complex, and, yes, even boring. Regardless, the basics of intellectual property often need coverage in traditional business school courses, particularly those involving law and the regulatory environment. A powerful and engaging way to introduce both topics is with the experiential classroom exercise “The Case of the Problematic Patent,” which implicates issues of wealth disparities and intellectual property rights associated with the major players in the pharmaceutical industry – Big Pharma, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), and Government (in the form of U.S. Congressional representation). These issues include high research costs, drug company profits, the cost of drugs to U.S. patients, U.S. law on negotiating drug prices, global access to life-saving drugs, generic drugs, evergreening, ethics, and more. This exercise works in classes involving business law, the regulatory environment, ethical decision-making, international business law, and organizational behavior. Debriefing the exercise may be tailored to emphasize key issues of the particular discipline being taught.