The European Commission has confirmed that on 24 November 2008, Commission officials started inspections at the premises of a number of pharmaceutical companies in several EU Member States. These inspections, also known as dawn raids, are a preliminary stage in an investigation of suspected anti-competitive practices. It is believed the main focus of these inspections is the suspected use by pharmaceutical companies of tactics such as: (i) using minor product changes to win extra patent life for medicines, a process also known as “strategic patenting” or “evergreening”; and (ii) using litigation to block cheap generic rivals.

According to the Commission, these inspections are not related to the series of investigations initiated in January, or to the ongoing sector competition inquiry, the preliminary report of which is due to be published on 28 November 2008. However, the Commission has acknowledged that information acquired during the sector inquiry has helped it to identify where may action need to be taken.