A patents case goes to the High Court

The High Court has granted special leave to Alphapharm to appeal from the Full Federal Court’s decision to allow Lundbeck to apply to extend the term of its Lexapro patent 10 years late. The High Court was not interested at all in the exercise of the discretion to allow a 10 year extension. the question is whether a power to extend time exists at all.

The extension of term provisions for pharmaceutical patents are found in s 70 and s 71(2). Section 71(2) provides that:

An application for an extension of the term of a standard patent must be made during the term of the patent and within 6 months after the latest of the following dates:

(a) the date the patent was granted;

( b) the date of commencement of the first inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods of goods that contain, or consist of, any of the pharmaceutical substances referred to in subsection 70(3);

(c) the date of commencement of this section.

It was common ground that Lundbeck’s application was outside the latest of the possible dates.

However, the Patents Act also provides a power to grant extensions of time in s 223.

Lundbeck’s problem – if it turns out to be a problem – is that s 223(11) says that s 223 cannot be used to extend the time for doing “prescribed actions” and reg. 22.11 specifies as one of the prescribed actions:

filing, during the term of a standard patent under subsection 71(2) of the Act, an application under subsection 70(1) of the Act for an extension of the term of the patent;

In the Federal Court,[1] Yates J at [50] found that Lundbeck’s “application” for an extension of time fell outside this because it really involved 2 requirements:

The making of an application under s 70(1) of the Act is governed by two time limits: the application must be made “during the term of the patent” and within six months of the applicable date in s 71(2)(a) to (c). Both time limits must be observed in order to make an application.

While the requirement that the application be made “during the term of the patent” was caught and so excluded by s 223(11), the second requirement – within 6 months of the applicable date – was not.

The High Court (Kiefel J and Keane J) have granted Alphapharm special leave to argue that, as a matter of construction, there was really only one application.

Lundbeck boldly tried to argue that special leave should not be granted because the issue raised no question of general importance: there not that many applications for an extension of time to apply for an extension of the term of a pharmaceutical patent. Kiefel J retorted sharply:

KIEFEL J: But the extension of a patent is itself an important matter, is it not?

MR NIALL: It is.

KIEFEL J: Very important.

It does raise an interesting question. The extended term expired back in December 2012. Alphapharm and others, however, had entered the market when the original term of the patent expired on 13 June 2009 and before Lundbeck’s application for an extension of time in which to file its application to extend the term had been finalised. Therefore, it would appear that the potential exposure of the generics companies to damages awards (or an account of profits) is up for grabs; i.e., another 3 years.

Alphapharm Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2014] HCATrans 79

Lid dip: Opinions on High

Some other commentaries: here, here and here.


  1. Aspen Pharma Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2013] FCAFC 129 (Jessup and Jagot JJ agreeing).  ?

Oh won’t you stay …

The patent war over escitalopram in Australia is still going!

One aspect of the Alphapharm / Lundbeck case I had forgotten (if I appreciated it at the time) was that Lindgren J quashed the extension of the patent’s term under s 70ff.

In June 2009, after the Full Court upheld Lindgren J’s decision, Lundbeck made a new application for an extension of term and also applied under s 223 for an extension of time to make that application – an extension of some 10 years or so.

In June 2011, the Commissioner granted Lundbeck’s application for an extension of time over oppositions by Alphapharm, Aspen and others. The AAT dismissed an appeal Aspen et al. and Aspen et al. have appealed from the AAT’s decision to the Full Court. That appeal is still pending.

Pending the outcome of the appeal, Yates J has now refused Aspen et al. a stay on the Commissioner’s decision to extend the term of the patent.[1]

Accepting that it was not ordinarily desirable that there be parallel proceedings before both the Commissioner and the Court, Yates J considered it was not appropriate to exercise his discretion to stay the proceedings before the Commissioner in this case.

While a number of considerations were advanced by both sides, the central consideration was that Lundbeck could well lose the ability to sue for some infringements if it was successful in extending the term of its patent. The issue here is that under s 120(4) proceedings for infringement must be brought within 6 years of the infringing conduct. Aspen et al. were not able to point to any real prejudice outweighing that.[2]

It may be of interest to note that the point in common between the 2 sets of proceedings is Aspen _et al._’s contention that the Commissioner has no power to grant the extension of term now under s 70(4) as she has already exercised the power (albeit invalidly) in granting the extension quashed by Lindgren J.[3]

Aspen Pharma Pty Ltd v H Lundbeck A/S [2013] FCA 324

ps [4]


  1. The Commissioner must now decide whether an extension of term is in order and, if so, the extension of term will be advertised and Aspen _et al. have foreshadowed they intend opposing.  ?
  2. While the costs and disruption of unnecessary opposition proceedings were invoked, Yates J considered at [53] that such costs should not be substantial and, at [55], that they could “exert a real measure of restraint over the costs they will incur in the anticipated oppositions.”  ?
  3. See [40] – [43] of Yates J’s reasons.  ?
  4. I thought apologies were due to Jackson Browne, the soaring soprano and David Linley, but it seems Maurice Williams should also be in the picture.  ?