Washington Law Review


In 2017, Allergan Pharmaceuticals entered into an agreement with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT). Allergan agreed to assign several patents to SRMT and to pay an initial sum of $13.75 million and annual royalties of approximately $15 million. SRMT, in exchange, licensed the rights to use the patents back to Allergan and agreed not to waive its tribal immunity in any administrative proceeding challenging the patents. Two outcomes were expected as a result of this Allergan-Mohawk agreement. First, Allergan would retain the rights to manufacture and market a highly profitable drug while insulating the underlying patents from an unforgiving administrative inter partes review (IPR). Second, SRMT would embark on a new business venture of collecting and relicensing patents from third parties, effectively “renting out” its sovereign immunity. The response from lawmakers, the judiciary, the executive branch, and the public at large was acrimonious. The agreement was branded in public forums as a “sham” and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board held the patents assigned to SRMT were not shielded by tribal immunity. This Comment argues the Allergan-Mohawk agreement is a legally effective means of avoiding IPR. Absent an express waiver of tribal immunity by Congress or the tribe itself, a tribe may not be subject to a private claim. This rule extends to IPR proceedings which closely parallel private suits. Therefore, contracts like the Allergan-Mohawk agreement effectively shield patents from IPR.

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