A niche blog dedicated to the issues that arise when supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) extend patents beyond their normal life -- and to the respective positions of patent owners, investors, competitors and consumers. The blog also addresses wider issues that may be of interest or use to those involved in the extension of patent rights. You can email The SPC Blog here

Wednesday 7 July 2010

SPCs and anticompetitive conduct: the General Court speaks

Case T-321/05 AstraZeneca v Commission, a complex decision delivered by the General Court of the European Union at the beginning of this month, is not only about SPCs as such -- it concerns the rectitude or otherwise of the Commission's assessment that AstraZeneca, the UK's second-largest pharma company, misled patent officials and flouted antitrust rules in order to keep generic competition at bay with regard to its Omeprazole product.

The General Court upheld most of the Commission's finding but reversed the finding that AstraZeneca breached EU rules by withdrawing market approvals for older versions of its medicine in Denmark and Norway, thus preventing market entry by generic producers and parallel importers. Some interesting comments concerning abuse of dominant position and SPCs can be found in the judgment, which is some 920 paragraphs long. A few examples:
"361 ... the Commission applied Article 82 EC correctly in taking the view that the submission to the patent offices of objectively misleading representations by an undertaking in a dominant position which are of such a nature as to lead those offices to grant it SPCs to which it is not entitled or to which it is entitled for a shorter period, thus resulting in a restriction or elimination of competition, constituted an abuse of that position. The question whether those representations were objectively misleading must be assessed in the light of the specific circumstances and context of each individual case. ...".

"366 ... the Court rejects the applicants’ argument that the existence of specific remedies which make it possible to rectify, or even annul, patents and SPCs granted unlawfully justifies application of the competition rules only where an anticompetitive effect is demonstrated. Where behaviour falls within the scope of the competition rules, those rules apply irrespective of whether that behaviour may also be caught by other rules, of national origin or otherwise, which pursue separate objectives. Similarly, the existence of remedies specific to the patent system is not capable of altering the conditions of application of the prohibitions laid down in competition law and, in particular, of requiring, in cases of behaviour such as that at issue in the present case, proof of the anticompetitive effects produced by such behaviour".
The SPC Blog may return to this decision again, if time and resources permit.

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