Abbott's patent-tweaking draws fire

To your list of patent-lawsuits-to-watch, add a set of cases over TriCor, the Abbott Laboratories cholesterol med. TriCor is 33 years old, but it's still on patent, thanks to a series of formulation and other tweaks Abbot made along the way. That's no small thing, either: TriCor snared $1.2 billion in 2007 sales.

The thing is, state and federal officials are probing whether all those tweaks--and Abbott's tactics in protecting TriCor from generic poaching--amount to antitrust violations. In one instance, Teva mounted a patent challenge on TriCor, but during the mandated Hatch-Waxman 30-month waiting period, Abbott reformulated the drug into a tablet and repurchased all the capsules. When the 30 months expired, Teva's capsules were no longer bioequivalent. So Teva applied to make tablets. During the 30-month waiting period, Abbott reformulated again.

Teva has since counter-sued, alleging antitrust violations. Now, some 25 state attorneys general have sued, too, siding (in effect) with Teva. The Israeli generics maker's lawsuit is set for trial in November. Count on it to be closely watched, because the outcome may set patent-extending ground rules for the entire industry.

- see the Wall Street Journal article