Brussels, 15th June 2005
The European Commission has fined Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca €60 million for misusing the patent system and the procedures for marketing pharmaceuticals to block or delay market entry for generic competitors to its ulcer drug Losec. The Commission has decided that AstraZeneca’s actions constitute serious abuses of its dominant market position in violation of EC and EEA competition rules.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “I fully support the need for innovative products to enjoy strong intellectual property protection so that companies can recoup their R & D expenditure and be rewarded for their innovative efforts. However, it is not for a dominant company but for the legislator to decide which period of protection is adequate. Misleading regulators to gain longer protection acts as a disincentive to innovate and is a serious infringement of EU competition rules. Health care systems throughout Europe rely on generic drugs to keep costs down. Patients benefit from lower prices. By preventing generic competition AstraZeneca kept Losec prices artificially high. Moreover, competition from generic products after a patent has expired itself encourages innovation in pharmaceuticals.”
From 1993 to 2000 AstraZeneca infringed EC and EEA competition rules by blocking or delaying market access for generic versions of Losec and preventing parallel imports of Losec. AstraZeneca did this by:
Losec pioneered a new generation of medicines to treat stomach ulcers and other acid-related diseases – so-called proton pump inhibitors. Losec initially received patent protection in Europe in 1979. During part of this period, Losec was the world’s best-selling prescription medicine.
The Commission’s decision does not prohibit AstraZeneca’s dominant position on the proton pump inhibitor market but the company’s abuse of that position. The fine takes into account that some features of the abuses can be considered as novel.