rvp I think the issue with patents is usually not really understood by the masses to be honest and, it's usually used out of context.
First of all, patents came about to protect the inventor of any kind of novelty from theft. Making money out of it, and since we are talking about drugs, was simply a side effect. Now patents were created long before the drug industry was a thing and maybe that's one of the problems.
Developing a drug costs loads of money, something that people tend to forget when they see the price tag. Usually people get pissed because a drug costs so much more than producing it but, who's paying for years of research, manufacturing clinical material, clinical trials, toxicology studies, drug filling and, most of all, all the failed research and clinical studies.
How can a patent be an issue than, you may ask?
Well, patents have a life time, usually 20 years.
I've worked for 15 years on drug research, coming-up with a new molecule that reaches animal studies takes about 5 years. Normally, you file a patent application before you reach this stage, which means you have 15 years of patent life left by the time you have your compound.
Toxicology and animal studies, usually rodents will eat another 2 years and a higher species study (dog, monkey or pig) another 2 - 3 years.
You now have 10 years left to make money. Phase I studies will take 6 months to one year. Phase IIa maybe another year and Phase IIb another one.
You're left with 7 - 8 years to cover the expenses of your drug this far and to earn some money for the failed projects also.
Then Phase III and approval (if successful) will take 2 - 3 years.
This is by no means a rule, just an example of how things can be. You may now understand why a drug costs as much as it does when you have less then 5 years to recover 15 years of investment. Add to that all the failed projects that also cost money and need to be accounted for.
Yes, the industry still makes money, a lot of money. Yes, sometimes pricing is not fare. But, usually people tend to neglect all the associated costs.