On the same day that it published its second report on monitoring of patent settlements in the EU, the parties settled a live case that the EC had been investigating in the area. The case concerned allegations by Spanish pharmaceutical company, Almirall, that the German pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), had filed for unmeritorious patents regarding new treatments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The EC’s investigation concerned whether this was an alleged misuse of the patent system in order to exclude potential competition in the area of COPD, in breach of EU competition law rules.
Under the settlement agreement, the alleged blocking positions will be removed for Europe, a licence will be granted for two countries outside Europe and pending litigation between the parties will be ended. Almirall will therefore be able to launch its competing medicines after obtaining marketing authorisation from the competent bodies.
The case is interesting generally as it provides an example of the EC taking a pragmatic approach to the investigation (it had suggested that the parties reach a commercial settlement) and as it provides another example of the EC’s focus on the pharmaceutical industry, in particular the need to increase competition in relation to medicines.