Evergreening and Operational Risk under Price Competition

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“Evergreening” is a strategy wherein an innovative pharmaceutical firm introduces an upgrade of its current product when the patent on this product expires. The upgrade is introduced with a new patent and is designed to counter competition from generic manufacturers that seek to imitate the firm's existing product. However, this process is fraught with uncertainty because the upgrade is subject to stringent guidelines and faces approval risk. Thus, an incumbent firm has to make an upfront production capacity investment without clarity on whether the upgrade will reach the market. This uncertainty may also affect the capacity investment of a competing manufacturer who introduces a generic version of the incumbent's existing product but whose market demand depends on the success or failure of the upgrade. We analyze a game where capacity investment occurs before uncertainty resolution and firms compete on prices thereafter. Capacity considerations that arise due to demand uncertainty introduce new factors into the evergreening decision. Equilibrium analysis reveals that the upgrade's estimated approval probability needs to exceed a threshold for the incumbent to invest in evergreening. This threshold for evergreening increases as the intensity of competition in the generic market increases. If evergreening is optimal, the incumbent's capacity investment is either decreasing or nonmonotonic with respect to low end market competition depending on whether the level of product improvement in the upgrade is low or high. If the entrant faces a capacity constraint, then the probability threshold for evergreening is higher than the case where the entrant is not capacity constrained. Finally, by incorporating the risk‐return trade‐off that the incumbent faces in terms of the level of product improvement versus the upgrade success probability, we can characterize policy for a regulator. We show that the introduction of capacity considerations may maximize market coverage and/or social surplus at incremental levels of product improvement in the upgrade. This is contrary to the prevalent view of regulators who seek to curtail evergreening involving incremental product improvement.