Much like its big brother Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) faces a major patent cliff in a few years, and it's doing everything it can to make the fall as painless as possible. Early indications from yesterday's first-quarter earnings report look promising.

Revenue was up 3%, which would have been an 8% increase at constant currencies, but, just like with Pfizer, investors should be focused on costs. Being lighter as the company goes over the cliff should make hitting the ground less painful, and Bristol-Myers seems to have things under control, with cost of goods as well as marketing, selling, and administrative expenses coming in lower year over year. Operating margins increased nearly 300 basis points year over year; that included a substantial increase in research and development spending, which will help fuel post-cliff growth.

Bristol-Myers has also done a good job at pushing out the patent cliff a little. In addition to losing blockbuster blood thinner Plavix (29% of revenue this quarter), which it sells with sanofi-aventis (NYSE:SNY), Bristol-Myers was scheduled to lose its marketing contract with Otsuka for the antipsychotic Abilify (12% of revenue this quarter) about a year later. But earlier this month Bristol-Myers was able to extend that agreement until 2015.

Thanks in part to the partial spinoff of Mead Johnson Nutrition (NYSE:MJN), Bristol-Myers increased its cash and marketable securities by $655 million last quarter, bringing its nest egg to nearly $9 billion. With that stockpile, Bristol continues to look like a mini-Pfizer; it just needs to make sure that it doesn't follow in its big brother's footsteps and make a large acquisition like Pfizer is doing with Wyeth (NYSE:WYE). If it can continue on the path it has been following, making small acquisitions and licensing deals like the ones with ZymoGenetics (NASDAQ:ZGEN) and Exelixis (NASDAQ:EXEL), it'll make it through the patent-cliff fall with just minor scratches.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., thinks cliff divers are cool, unless they're big drug companies. He doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. The Fool's disclosure policy likes to fold itself up into a paper airplane and take dives off cliffs.