Pfizer, Merck ask court to keep patent deals secret

An antitrust fight between the Federal Trade Commission and drugmaker Cephalon threatens to rope in 37 other drugmakers, including Pfizer and Merck. Cephalon wants access to currently confidential documents about the other pharma companies' patent settlements with generics firms. Pfizer, Merck, et al., say, "No way."

The document request comes in an ongoing lawsuit between Cephalon and the FTC over the company's $200 million worth of patent settlements with generics firms. The FTC claims those payments are keeping copycat versions of Provigil, Cephalon's narcolepsy drug, off the market for too long, and are anticompetitive.

In its defense, Cephalon says it needs info on other drugmakers' patent settlements. The commission's claims include conclusions based on internal studies of so-called "pay-for-delay" deals made over several years; Cephalon wants the underlying data that supports those conclusions. Cephalon's rivals, however, want that information kept secret. "Disclosure of these settlement agreements and related documents in this matter would seriously damage the third parties' business and legal interests," the companies said in a court motion.

For once, the request for patent-settlement documents is coming from a fellow drugmaker, rather than a government agency. For several years, the FTC has been digging into deals it considers suspect. And earlier this week, European authorities unleashed a new round of patent-deal requests in their ongoing antitrust probe. 

- read the Wall Street Journal story