from the good-for-them dept
Many people have believed that such deals are clear antitrust violations -- and a lawsuit against big pharma Schering-Plough (owned by Merck) tested this theory, only to be dismissed by the district court. That original ruling really twisted logic in a few knots to come to its conclusion -- and the good news is that, two years later, the 3rd Circuit appeals court has reversed the ruling. The ruling is long, but interesting. It starts out by noting that other court's ruling on this matter seem to take the concept of "patent validity" way too far. As we've discussed in other contexts, patent validity says that you have to assume a patent is valid -- but in these cases, the court notes that this unfairly biases the situation in which the bogus patent infringement lawsuits are filed to extract these "pay-for-delay" deals.
First, we take issue with the scope of the patent test’s almost unrebuttable presumption of patent validity. This presumption assumes away the question being litigated in the underlying patent suit, enforcing a presumption that the patent holder would have prevailed. We can identify no significant support for such a policy. While persons challenging the validity of a patent in litigation bear the burden of defeating a presumption of validity, this presumption is intended merely as a procedural device and is not a substantive right of the patent holder.... Moreover, the effectively conclusive presumption that a patent holder is entitled to exclude competitors is particularly misguided with respect to agreements – like those here – where the underlying suit concerned patent infringement rather than patent validity: In infringement cases it is the patent holder who bears the burden of showing infringement.The court then discusses the Hatch-Waxman Act, which is at the heart of these disputes, noting that its intent (to increase availability of generics) seems to be the exact opposite of what happens with these pay-for-delay deals. But where it gets interesting is that the court says that having one company pay another to delay market entrance should be seen "as prima facie evidence of an unreasonable restraint of trade." This is definitely a big ruling -- though its potential disagreement with other courts may get this issue over to the Supreme Court before too long.
It's nice to see the court get it right after the lower court seemed so confused by the issue.