Appeals court backs Plavix patent

You can almost hear the celebrations at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis. The two companies saw a U.S. appeals court put its backing behind patent protection for the companies' blockbuster blood-thinning drug Plavix. The ruling helps ensure that Bristol and Sanofi can reap revenue from the top seller until its patents start to expire in 2011; last year, the drug brought in $7.3 billion in worldwide sales.

This is just the latest development in a long and twisted history of fighting over Plavix. First, generics maker Apotex challenged the drug's patent, and to settle that litigation, Bristol and Sanofi agreed to pay Apotex $40 million to keep its copycat version off the market until 2011. But state attorneys general nixed the settlement, and Apotex launched its copycat version--for three weeks. Then federal investigators took a look at the abandoned settlement deal; Bristol ended up paying a $1 million fine, the AP reports.

The litigation went forward until last year, when a district court judge ruled that Apotex failed to prove that Plavix's patent was invalid. Last week's appeals court decision affirms that ruling. Now, Bristol and Sanofi are seeking damages from Apotex, "in reparation of harm caused" when Apotex launched that at-risk version of Plavix, badly dinging 2006 sales. For its part, Apotex is pledging to appeal the ruling.

- read the Bristol/Sanofi release
- check out the story from the AP