Archive for the ‘Trade’ Category

IP and antitrust in Australia

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Wow! I think this is a first in Australia: the ACCC – Australia’s competition “watchdog” – is suing Pfizer for antitrust breaches over its (then expiring) patent for Lipitor.[1]

According to the ACCC’s press release:

At its peak, Lipitor was prescribed to over one million Australians with annual sales exceeding AU$700 million.

Pfizer had a patent over the active ingredient, atorvastatin, but it expired in May 2012.

Early in 2012 (before the patent expired), the ACCC alleges that Pfizer offered to supply Lipitor to pharmacies at “significant discounts and the payment of rebates previously accrued” so long as they agreed to buy from Pfizer a minimum volume of up to 12 months’ generic atorvastatin after the patent expired.

The ACCC alleges this constituted a misuse of market power contrary to s 46 and exclusive dealing contrary to s 47 of the Competition and Consumer Act because:

(1) the offers were made before the patent expired and so at a time when other generic suppliers could not make offers; and

(2) “Pfizer engaged in this conduct for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin from engaging in competitive conduct, as well as for the purpose of substantially lessening competition”.

If the ACCC is right, it wants penalties, declarations and costs. Under the Act, the pecuniary penalties could be up to the greater of $10 million, 3 times the benefit gained from the contravention or 10% of annual turnover.

More generally, as the ACCC’s chairman flagged:

This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent and what constitutes permissible competitive conduct.

Now, patentees’ efforts, while their patent is in force, to tie customers into taking the product after the patent has expired, were so controversial that, just over one hundred years ago, Parliaments introduced legislation to permit licensees to terminate patent licences once the patent expired.[2]

Beyond that, s 46 also prohibits any corporation from taking advantage of a substantial degree of power in a market for the purpose of:

(a) eliminating or substantially damaging a competitor of the corporation or of a body corporate that is related to the corporation in that or any other market;

(b) preventing the entry of a person into that or any other market; or

(c) deterring or preventing a person from engaging in competitive conduct in that or any other market.

So, to contravene s 46, the ACCC will have to establish two conditions:

(1) Pfizer had a substantial degree of power in a market; and

(2) it took advantage of that power for an anti-competitive purpose.

The first issue turns on what is the market: the market for Lipitor or some wider market such as a market for the treatment of high cholesterol? This question highlights the reference in the ACCC’s press release to the succes of Lipitor “at its peak”. I don’t know much about the market for treatment of high cholesterol but, by the time Pfizer did this allegedly dastardly deed, there were presumably some alternatives to prescribing Lipitor.[3]

In an earlier proceeding involving copyright,[4] the Full Court of the Federal Court held that a record company which had less than 20% of the market did not have a substantial degree of power in the market. So, unless the ACCC can tie the market narrowly to the market for Lipitor, it may well face considerable difficulties.[5]

Those difficulties may mean that the s 47 allegation has greater significance as, in that earlier case, the Full Federal Court still found the record companies contravened s 47 even though they did not have market power. Although their conduct could not have the effect of substantially lessening competition (because they did not have sufficient market power), their purpose was anti-competitive.

Plainly, Pfizer was trying to sign up the pharmacies to this deal so that they would not buy at least the minimum amount from these generic suppliers who were apparently waiting in the wings, but is that anti-competitive? Maybe it depends on how large the minimum requirement is in relation to the pharmacy’s expected needs for the period. But, it was only for 12 months!

Normally,[6] one would expect the pharmacies could readily calculate whether they were better off taking the deal or continuing to pay the “list” price for Lipitor and then taking advantage of spot prices in the market after the patent expired. If the alleged contravention, however, was that Pfizer refused to supply Lipitor at all while the patent was in force unless the pharmacies agreed to buy “generic” Lipitor after the patent’s expiry, that might have put the pharmacies in a very difficult position of being unable to fill prescriptions.

A further potential complication is that s 47 does not apply to conditions in a licence (or assignment) of a patent to the extent the conditions related to the patented invention or articles made by the use of the patented invention. No-one really knows what that means. Could a pharmacy that agrees to buy Lipitor from Pfizer be a licensee? Certainly, in keeping the drug for sale and selling it, the pharmacy would be exploiting the patent (while it was still in force), but has an implied licence to do those acts. Could agreement to buy “generic” Lipitor after the patent has expired relate to the invention?

At this stage, the parties have filed their respective pleadings,[7] discovery is taking place to be followed by affidavits and a return to Court for further directions in September.

The ACCC’s press release

Lid dip: Patentology


  1. Federal Court Proceeding No. NSD 146/2014, filed on 13 February 2014.  ?
  2. As this case demonstrated, however, it has limited effect.  ?
  3. And it may often be the case that different drugs have different side effects or have particular advantages over other treatments so it is not quite the same as comparing, say, Pink Lady apples with Fuji apples or ….  ?
  4. Universal Music Australia Pty Ltd v Australian Competition & Consumer Commission [2003] FCAFC 193  ?
  5. That said, the price of Lipitor in Australia, even off-patent, has managed to attract unfavourable headlines.  ?
  6. Maybe there is some complexity arising from the arcane operations of pricing under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme?  ?
  7. If anyone cares to provide a copy, I’d love to read them :-).  ?

The (online) price of things in Australia

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Last year, a Parliamentary Committee discovered that Australians pay much higher prices for software and other technology than consumers in other countries.[1]

Now (well, last month), the Fairfax media claimed that Australians are paying much higher prices  for fashion from overseas chains than they charge in their online stores too. Apparently, up to 35% more – although, looking at the unit prices, I wonder if that is before or after postage or delivery has been included.


  1. The [Copyright Society of Australia][csa] held a seminar on the report, the transcripts of which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Copyright Reporter.  ?

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2012 – exposure draft

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

IP Australia has released for public comment an exposure draft of the proposed Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2012. The Bill has 2 purposes:

  1. to amend the Patents Act 1990 in light of the DOHA Declaration / TRIPS Protocol; and
  2. to confer original jurisdiction in matters arising under the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 on the Federal Magistrates Court in addition to the Federal Court’s existing jurisdiction.

DOHA Declaration[1] / TRIPS Protocol

Article 31 (scroll down) of the TRIPS Agreement permits members of the WTO to permit the use of patented inventions without the permission of the rightholder in the circumstances set out in the article.

The HIV/Aids crisis in Africa revealed a problem in this regime in that a number of countries which needed to rely on these provisions did not have the infrastructure, or were otherwise unable effectively, to take advantage of this regime. The basic idea underlying, first, the DOHA Declaration and, then, the TRIPS Protocol is to enable such countries to take advantage of the facilities and expertise in other countries by having the relevant drug made under compulsory licence in the foreign country.

So far, only Canada has notified the WTO pursuant to the DOHA Declaration that it has granted a compulsory licence to Apotex to export TriAvir[2] to Rwanda.[3]

Following on from consultations begun in 2010, the Government announced its intention to amend the Patents Act to implement the DOHA regime in March last year. The object of the proposed amendments is to introduce a regime for the grant of compulsory licences of pharmaceutical products on public health grounds for export to least-developed or developing countries (to be defined in the Bill as “eligible importing countries”).
As the TRIPS Protocol is not yet in force,[4] schedule 1 of the Bill is intended to implement the interim regime adopted under the DOHA Declaration. When the TRIPS Protocol does come into force, the regime in schedule 1 will be superseded by the regime to be enacted by schedule 2 of the Bill.

In either case, the regime will be separate from, and independent of, the existing compulsory licensing regime relating to domestic non-use which is currently the subject of a reference to the Productivity Commission.

As with the existing “non-use” regime, any compulsory licences would be granted only on application to the Federal Court, and not the Commissioner of Patents. If the patents in question are innovation patents, it would be necessary to apply for certification (where that has not occurred already).

Federal Magistrates Court

The extension of jurisdiction over PBR matters to the Federal Magistrates Court, which “is designed to deal with less complex matters more quickly and informally than the Federal Court”, follows several years experience with copyright matters and the extension of jurisdiction over patent, trade mark and registered design matters enacted by the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012, which comes into effect on 15 April 2013.

Onus in trade mark oppositions

I wonder why the bill doesn’t fix up the onus for oppositions to the registration of trade marks to the “balance of probabilities” standard in line with the amendments – see Part 2 – that will apply in patent oppositions from 1 April 2013?

Submissions should be made by 1 October 2012.

Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2012 – exposure draft

Exposure draft Explanatory Memorandum

IP Australia’s Home Page for the exposure draft process.


  1. This is not strictly accurate terminology: I am using it as shorthand to refer to the WTO Council decision in December 2003 on paragraph 6 of the DOHA Declaration made in 2001. The WTO’s overview page is here.  ?
  2. A fixed-dose combination product of Zidovudine, Lamivudine and Nevirapine, according to Rwanda’s notification: see View Notifications.  ?
  3. The compulsory licence was issued by the Commissioner of Patents on 19 September 2007 for a period of 2 years: click on View notifications.  ?
  4. Australia has already accepted the TRIPS Protocol, but it does not come into force until two thirds of WTO’s 155 members accept it. If one counts the EU as “one” member – not sure on the politics of this as there are currently 27 members of the EU, as at May this year 44 members had accepted the TRIPS Protocol.  ?

Tobacco plain packaging

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Quote from the High Court:

At least a majority of the Court is of the opinion that the Act is not contrary to s 51(xxxi).

Reasons (which may explain that rather cryptic quantity) to follow later.

So, by 1 December 2012, all retail cigarette packs in Australia will look something like this. – the colour is officially described as Pantone 448C.

Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011

Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations 2011

Tobacco Plain Packaging Amendment Regulations 2012 – extending regime to cigars and tobacco pouches.

On the global front, Ukraine, Honduras and Dominican Republic have brought complaints against Australia before the WTO dispute resolution process and, so far, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, the European Union, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Uruguay and Zimbabwe have joined in the consultations.

So far as I can work out, the arbitration between Philip Morris and Australia under the 1993 Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Hong Kong for the Promotion and Protection of Investments has reached the stage where the panel of 3 arbitrators has been established.

Google v ACCC

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Following on from yesterday’s post, @davidstarkoff points out that:

  • the transcript of the special leave application can be found here; and
  • in due course, the submissions will appear here.

The hearing of the appeal has been fixed for 11 September 2012.

ACCC v Google

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Apparently, back on 25 June the High Court granted Google special leave to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s ruling that Google is liable for the misleading ads placed by advertisers.

Maybe the internet will be able to keep working in Australia after all.

Austlii is only up to 20 June, at the time of posting.

Lid dip “Law Geek Down Under

ACTA in trouble in Australia

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

The Age is reporting that a Parliamentary committee has “struck down” Australia’s signing of ACTA.

As it turns out, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has unanimously recommended that Australia should not ratify ACTA at this time. Recommendation 8 states:

That the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement not be ratified by Australia until the:

  • Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has received and considered the independent and transparent assessment of the economic and social benefits and costs of the Agreement referred to in Recommendation 2;
  • Australian Law Reform Commission has reported on its Inquiry into Copyright and the Digital Economy; and
  • the Australian Government has issued notices of clarification in relation to the terms of the Agreement as recommended in the other recommendations of this report.

Recommendation 9 goes on to exhort any future Committee on Treaties to take into account what is happening with ACTA in other jurisdictions including the EU and the USA.

Recommendations 3 to 7 relate to more specific matters such as, for example, a need to clarify the meanings of ‘aiding and abetting’ and ‘commercial scale’.

Apart from specific matters of particular detail, the Joint Standing Committee seems to have had two main concerns about ratification:

First, the Treaty was tabled in Parliament with a National Interest Assessment  (NIA). However, the NIA did not include an analysis of the economic impact that ratifying ACTA would have on Australia.

One reason why there was no economic analysis feeds into the Joint Standing Committee’s second major concern: the NIA stated that ACTA would not require any changes to existing Australian law. The benefit of ratifying ACTA (early) was that it would give Australia influence:

2.13 The NIA encourages the early ratification of ACTA, so as to enable Australia to play an influential role in the ACTA Committee, which will consider, inter alia, rules and procedures for reviewing the implementation and operations of ACTA.

In the absence of an economic assessment, however, the Joint Standing Committee noted there was an absence of reliable evidence that there is a “problem” that needs to be addressed. See [3.6] and reference to the concerns expressed, amongst others, by the US Government Accountability Office.

Secondly, the Joint Standing Committee received a number of submissions which challenged the view that no changes would be required to Australian law. For example, what does “aid and abet” or “commercial scale” mean? To what extent, if at all, are patents caught up in what is counterfeit?

How valid those concerns are may require further investigation but, as As. Prof. Weatherall pointed out, the ACTA Committee will have a role in developing more detailed enforcement mechanisms. The Joint Standing Committee also noted in several places that ACTA does not include the defences or exceptions expressed in TRIPS.

So far as I can work out (it is a long time since I studied constitutional law so let me know if you know better), the Joint Standing Committee has not in fact “struck down” ACTA or Australia ratifying it. The Committee’s recommendations do not constitute a resolution of a House of Parliament and ACTA is not a legislative instrument subject to disallowance on such a resolution.

As a treaty, ACTA would become part of our domestic law only if Parliament passed a statute to implement it. The Government could still ratify ACTA but the Joint Standing Committee’s recommendations are the unanimous recommendations of a cross-party committee so they plainly reflect a level of disquiet with ACTA within Parliament at a high level: a level of disquiet which appears to be felt even within the EU (one of the IP-exporting parts of the world one might think likely to support such a regime).

Download copies of the Committee’s report from here (pdf).

Does anyone think Google is advertising the sponsored links?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The Full Federal Court in Australia does.

The ACCC has successfully appealed the Google Adwords case for misleading and deceptive conduct.

So, for example, Alpha Dog Trainging has been operating a dogtraining business for 12 years. Dog Training Australia (Ausdog) bought ads on the keywords Alpha Dog Training through Google’s Adwords program. One ad generated was:

Alpha Dog Training 
DogTrainingAustralia.com.au All Breeds. We come to you. No dog that can’t be trained. 

Instead of being taken through through to Alpha Dog Training’s website, however, a user who clicked on the ad was taken through to Ausdog’s website.

A clear case of misleading or deceptive conduct by Ausdog.

Because of its role in “selecting” which ads got placed in what order, Google has also been found liable.

Prof. King, formerly an ACCC commissioner, highlights why and thinks the Court got it seriously wrong.

Did we just kill the Internet in Australia?

ACCC v Google Inc. [2012] FCAFC 49 (Keane CJ, Jacobson and Lander JJ)

Another round in the plain packaging tobacco war

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

This is a bit behind as it happened over the break:

The “tobacco plain packaging” legislation became law last December and, as you will recall, Philip Morris Asia has initiated an arbitration proceeding under the Australia-Hong Kong Investment Treaty.

Australia filed its “defence” late in December, alleging that Philip Morris Asia bought the assets in question after the Government’s plans were known and so hasn’t lost any value:

Prof. Davison has a typically wry report

Philip Morris’ complaint and Australia’s “defence” are available via here.

 

Australia signed up to ACTA

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Last Saturday, while half of us were trying not to watch Meat Loaf earn a reported $500,ooo (here, here or here) or tweeting, the Minister for Trade travelled to Japan to sign ACTA (the Department’s home page currently has a photograph of the actual signing).

According to the Minister’s Press Release:

The implementation of ACTA will not require legislative changes in Australia. Rather, trading partners will adapt their laws to the high standards of IP enforcement that already apply in Australia.

According to the USTR, no changes would be required to US law either.

The Minister for Trade’s Press Release states that Australia is one of 10 countries attending the signing + the EU. Howard Knopf reports that those signing included Australia, Canada,  Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, (South) Korea & USA, but the EU didn’t. According to ZDNet, the EU still working on it. So this may be a bit “optimistic”.

According to the USTR, the EU, Mexico and Switzerland did attend and “confirmed their continuing strong support for and preparations to sign the Agreement as soon as practicable”.

Lid dip @howardknopf