Why does Sanofi's CEO consider 'patent' a dirty word?

Sanofi-Aventis CEO (NYSE: SNY) Chris Viehbacher (photo) wants to escape patent tyranny. In a business in which intellectual property is challenged, defended, validated and invalidated--and billions lost or gained along the way--Viehbacher has had enough. Or so he tells two reporters in separate interviews yesterday.

In the spotlight because of his potential buyout of Genzyme, Viehbacher wouldn't comment on that specific deal. But he did use the opportunity to chat about his going-forward strategy--one that includes buyouts of companies up to and including Genzyme's size. However, the strategy also shies away from IP-dependent companies. "Above all, what I'm looking for is businesses that are not dependent on patents," Viehbacher tells the Associated Press. "This is my fourth patent cliff in my career and I'm looking to avoid a fifth."

How can a pharma CEO say he wants to get away from IP dependency? Isn't innovation and IP the bedrock of drugmaking? Viehbacher tells Forbes he wants businesses whose products are "protected by forces other than patents," to avoid the dreaded patent cliff and its attendant drop in sales.

What might those forces be? Other barriers to copycatting, such as complex, difficult-to-knock-off drugs, as well as leveraging brand strength in emerging markets, where the right logo on an off-patent drug can gain customer loyalty.

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