Big pharma got a big boost Monday as the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that drug companies are free to use compounds patented by rivals to conduct research on new medicines. The decision, which set aside a lower court ruling, should reduce the costs of developing new drugs, patent law experts said. Legal experts said in published reports that the decision was a setback for smaller, research focused biotechs that depend on patent licensing fees from larger companies. "This will diminish the value of those patents. It is quite clear they have expanded the scope," Washington, D.C. patent lawyer Stephen Maebius told The Los Angeles Times referring to a 1984 federal law intended to foster drug development. The 1984 law was intended, in part, to speed the approval of generic medicines and granted a federal exemption from patent laws for research on new medications. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said a lower court made an error when it narrowed the exemption to include only clinical trials leading to FDA approval of a drug.The Supreme Court ruling Monday all but overturns a $6 million verdict against German drug company Merck. Integra LifeSciences of New Jersey had claimed in a lawsuit that Merck's work on a cancer drug had infringed an Integra patent.