AZ antitrust fine part of EU crackdown

Chalk up a victory for E.U. antitrust regulators. The General Court has ruled against AstraZeneca in an appeal, affirming the antitrust watchdog's finding that the drugmaker abused its dominant market position when it blocked or delayed generic versions of the ulcer drug Losec.

It's been a closely watched case because E.U. officials have been on an antitrust bender, raiding drugmakers both branded and generic all over the continent. Legal experts had been hoping that the AZ ruling would offer some clarity on what practices break E.U. competition rules, the Financial Times reports. Among the companies targeted by regulators are GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.

The European Commission had accused AstraZeneca of deliberately misleading patent offices in six countries to extend IP protections for Losec, which is sold as Prilosec in the U.S. They also alleged that AstraZeneca had used other tactics to stymie generic companies intent on copying the drug.

"This case is likely to be used as a precedent," says Nicola Dagg, an intellectual-property lawyer in London at Allen & Overy LLP, as quoted by Bloomberg. "While the specific activities set out in this judgment will form concrete examples of abusive behavior" where the commission will likely step in, "the difficulty lies in recognizing which activities will, in the future, be considered abusive."

The Luxembourg court upheld the patent-office allegation, but rejected the other claims. That decision reduced the initial fine of €60 million ($73.4 million) to €52.5 million ($64 million).

"The company is disappointed that our position wasn't confirmed in full," AstraZeneca spokeswoman Sarah Lindgreen says in an interview, as quoted by Bloomberg. "Obviously, it's very complex and we need to review it in detail to comment further."

- read the court's release on its decision
- see the FT piece
- get more from Bloomberg
- check out the Wall Street Journal coverage
- read the news from Reuters