Nicholas J has dismissed the Commonwealth’s application for Sanofi to pay it compensation under the undertaking as to damages when Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction against Apotex’ plans to launch clopidogrel in Australia, but the patent was ultimately ruled invalid.
The decision is some 698 paragraphs long, so this going to be the briefest overview of some highlights only.
Some litigious background
Clopidogrel is a medication which can be used to inhibit blood clotting. Sanofi (then called Sanofi-Aventis) had patents protecting it around the world and had generated over US$1 billion in revenues. Sales in Australia being under Sanofi’s Plavix trade mark and BMS’ Iscover trade mark.
In August 2007, Apotex commenced proceedings for the revocation of Sanofi’s Australian patent. Shortly after, Apotex also obtained registration of its generic version of clopidogrel on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. In September 2007, it then applied for listing of its generic clopidogrel in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), through which the Commonwealth government subsidises the price of drugs in Australia.
As it missed the cut off date for the next round of listings in the PBS, it withdrew that application with the intention of making a further application before the next round closed on 1 December 2007. An application made in the December round would be for listing on the PBS from 1 April 2008.
In September 2007, however, Sanofi obtained an interlocutory injunction restraining Apotex from importing or selling in Australia pharmaceuticals which included clopidogrel as their active ingredient. Sanofi gave the usual undertaking as to damages as the price for that interlocutory injunction.
At the hearing for the interlocutory injunction, Apotex also gave an undertaking not to make an application for listing in the PBS pending the outcome of the trial. Apotex did not obtain from Sanofi an undertaking as to damages for that undertaking.
At the substantive trial, Gyles J dismissed Apotex’ application for revocation and instead found that it had infringed Sanofi’s patent. In September 2009, however, the Full Court upheld Apotex’ appeal and ordered the patent be revoked. Sanofi’s application for special leave was dismissed by the High Court on 12 March 2010.
Sandoz obtained PBS listing for its generic clopidogrel on 1 April 2010. Apotex did not obtain listing of its product until 1 May 2010. So, in addition to whatever sales it lost between 1 April 2008 and the lifting of the injunction in 2010, Apotex also lost whatever advantages may have flowed from being the first generic mover.
Sanofi and Apotex settled Apotex’ claims for compensation on the undertaking as to damages out of court.
The Commonwealth’s claims
The Commonwealth also claimed compensation under the undertaking as to damages.
Its case was that Apotex would have been listed on the PBS from 1 April 2008 if Sanofi had not been granted the interlocutory injunctions and so, as a result of the interlocutory injunction, the price payable for clopidogrel:
(a) was not reduced by the statutory reduction to the Approved Price to Pharmacists of 12.5% (i.e. in very loose terms, the Commonwealth paid a price 12.5% higher than it should have been on all sales of clopidogrel between 1 April 2008 and 1 May 2010);
(b) further statutory reductions of 2% each were not triggered on, respectively, 1 August 2009 and 1 August 2010; and
(c) additional price reductions consequent upon the triggering of a statutory price disclosure regime which should have occurred on 1 April 2008.
(From  in his Reasons, Nicholas J discusses various scenarios for the calculation of how much the grant of the interlocutory injunction cost the Commonwealth. The lowest amount his Honour would have found in terms of compensation was in the order of $15 million.)
To succeed in its claim, Nicholas J held (at ) that the Commonwealth had to show:
· Would the relevant loss have been sustained but for the grant of interlocutory injunction?
· Did such loss flow directly from the interlocutory injunction?
· Could loss of the kind sustained have been foreseen at the time the interlocutory injunction was granted?
Why the Commonwealth lost
The Commonwealth was able to secure a number of witnesses from Apotex. These included the managing director of Apotex Australia, a Mr Millichamp, whose affidavit evidence was to the effect that Apotex was committed to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if, having been notified of Apotex’ plans to launch, Sanofi did not obtain an interlocutory injunction.
The problem for the Commonwealth was that Apotex Australia is part of a corporate group controlled by Apotex Canada and the decision on whether or not to launch the product in Australia was to be made by Apotex Canada – specifically its founder and managing director, Dr Barry Sherman.
The evidence did show that in February 2007, Dr Sherman did plan for Apotex to launch its generic clopidogrel in Australia if Sanofi did not get an interlocutory injunction against it. Over time, however, the situation developed further. For example, the evidence included an email Mr Millichamp sent to one of his offsiders on 27 June 2007 when it appeared that the TGA listing was imminent (emphasis supplied) which stated:
[redacted] If we are successful in avoiding an injunction we will plan to launch subject to Barry’s further advice / approval.
If anything changes I’ll let you know.
“Barry” being Dr Sherman. At , Nicholas J considered this email indicated that Apotex had not yet decided whether it would launch its clopidogrel product in Australia if Sanofi did not succeed in getting an interlocutory injunction to restrain it.
Secondly, Apotex appears to have been planning to supply Australia from US stocks, but the shelf life of those products would not extend beyond August 2008 which was not very practical – especially when the earliest launch date would be April 2008.
Thirdly, Apotex’ challenge to Sanofi’s patent in the USA had been rejected by the trial judge.
Fourthly, Apotex’ communications to pharmacies did not definitely commit to a launch of the product.
Fifthly, Apotex had not exposed its legal advice on its prospects so Mr Millichamp’s evidence that “we always believed that all of the claims of the patent were invalid”
are not persuasive in circumstances where any legal advice upon which such a belief was based is not in evidence particularly in circumstances where the validity of the US Patent had already been upheld by the US District Court in a decision that was later affirmed on appeal.
Sixthly, at the time of the hearing for the interlocutory injunction in September 2007, the judge had indicated the final trial of substantive issues would be heard in April 2008 and he would give judgment by August 2008. That is, the trial would take place in the same month as the earliest date that Apotex could be in the market if it re-submitted its PBS application before 1 December 2007.
In these circumstances, Nicholas J considered at :
In the absence of evidence from Dr Sherman, I am not persuaded that he would have authorised a launch at risk in circumstances where an interlocutory injunction had been refused, but a final hearing was fixed to commence on 28 April 2008. ….
Rather, Nicholas J considered there was every reason for Dr Sherman to have deferred Apotex’ decision whether to launch or not until the last possible moment.
At this point, the failure (or inability) of the Commonwealth to call Dr Sherman as a witness became decisive all the more so as the Commonwealth was able to produce for cross-examination other Apotex witnesses who did travel from Canada and India. Nicholas J concluded at  – :
I conclude that Dr Sherman was a witness who I would have expected to have been available to the Commonwealth and who would have had a close knowledge of relevant facts. In circumstances where the Commonwealth’s decision not to call Dr Sherman was wholly unexplained, I infer that the Commonwealth chose not to call him because it considered that his evidence would not have assisted its case.
I am not prepared to infer, based on the 20 February 2007 email, or any of the subsequent correspondence in evidence which was said to justify the drawing of such an inference, that Dr Sherman was likely to have instructed Mr Millichamp to procure the listing of Apotex’s clopidogrel products with effect from 1 April 2008.
In my opinion, the Commonwealth’s case suffers from an evidentiary deficiency which cannot be made good by drawing inferences from correspondence written by Dr Sherman in the lead up to the hearing of the interlocutory application. In particular, I do not think it can be inferred that if Dr Sherman had known that the trial of the patent proceeding would commence in the same month that Apotex Australia obtained a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products (triggering a 12.5% statutory price reduction), that he would have, in those circumstances, authorised Apotex Australia to obtain such a listing before judgment was delivered or, at least, until the trial had concluded (by which time he and his colleagues and his legal advisers may have had a clearer view of the strength of Sanofi’s case).
In the result, at , Nicholas J held that the Commonwealth’s claim must be dismissed.
Some other matters
Having dismissed the claim, Nicholas J went on to consider a number of other matters, albeit by way of obiter dicta.
Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing was not direct loss
The fact that Sanofi did not give an undertaking as to damages in return for Apotex’ undertaking not to seek PBS listing if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was made would have provided a second basis for dismissing the Commonwealth’s claim.
Nicholas J accepted that the losses claimed by the Commonwealth were a foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, however, they were not a sufficiently direct consequence of it.
Apotex had recognised that, if an interlocutory injunction restraining sale was granted, there was no point seeking PBS listing. It would not be able to give the guarantee of supply required to obtain PBS listing and so any listing would fail or be revoked. In addition, it might expose it to increased damages having to compensate Sanofi for the profits lost on the automatic 12.5% reduction in price.
While Nicholas J accepted the Commonwealth’s loss was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the interlocutory injunction, his Honour held it did not result directly from the injunction in the relevant sense. At , his Honour explained:
Even if it is accepted, as I have found, that the first Apotex undertaking would never have been given if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted, it does not follow that the Commonwealth’s loss flowed directly from the interlocutory injunction. The terms of the interlocutory injunction did not prevent Apotex Australia from applying for a PBS listing of its clopidogrel products or from taking any other steps to obtain such a listing. Doing so would not have involved a breach of the interlocutory injunction. The Commonwealth’s loss was a natural and direct consequence of Apotex Australia not being able to apply to list its clopidogrel products on the PBS with effect from 1 April 2008, which was the precise conduct to which the first Apotex undertaking was directed, but not something the interlocutory injunction expressly or implicitly prohibited. This strongly suggests, in my view, that the loss alleged by the Commonwealth in this case was an indirect consequence of the interlocutory injunction.
It is worth considering the ramifications of that conclusion. First, it has been held that it is not an infringement of the patent for someone to apply for PBS listing of a drug containing the protected invention. Further, the Commonwealth is not in a position to require a generic company to refrain from giving an undertaking not to seek PBS listing unless there is an undertaking as to damages. Thirdly, His Honour’s reasoning would apply equally to the losses claimed by Apotex under the undertaking as to damages, not just the Commonwealth’s. If you are acting for a ‘generic’ in this situation, therefore, make sure any undertaking as to damages extends to any undertaking not to seek PBS listing.
Sanofi argued that, even if it did not get an interlocutory injunction, the Minister (or delegate) would refuse listing of Apotex’ product in the PBS on the grounds of patent infringement until the outcome of the proceeding was known. Sanofi’s own witnesses, however, admitted such an outcome was unlikely. Instead, Nicholas J considered an application for listing would most likely have been approved if Apotex had given the necessary guarantee of supply. At , Nicholas J said:
I do not think it likely that the Delegate would have refused the application on the basis that a trial of the patent proceedings would shortly take place or that a judgment might be expected to be given some time between May 2008 and August 2008. In my view the Delegate is likely to have been most influenced by two matters: first, the willingness of Apotex Australia to provide an assurance of supply and, second, the absence of any interlocutory injunction restraining any such supply. I think it unlikely that a Delegate would have questioned the ability of Apotex Australia to either comply with its assurance of supply or comply with its obligations under the guarantee of supply. So far as the latter was concerned, I consider it most likely that the Delegate would have proceeded on the basis that, in the event that there was some failure on the part of Apotex to supply during the guaranteed period, then it would be open to the Minister in that situation to exercise one or more of the powers available under the relevant provisions of the NHA including the power to delist the Apotex Australia clopidogrel products and the power to reverse the 12.5% statutory price reduction.
Another area of dispute between the parties was what would have happened if the interlocutory injunction had not been granted but, as in fact happened, the trial judge found Apotex infringed. Mr Millichamp from Apotex gave evidence Apotex would have applied to have the Apotex product delisted. Sanofi argued that, in that situation, it would have been able to get the 12.5% automatic price reduction reversed. The Commonwealth contended that reversal was unlikely. There was a at least one prior case where the price reduction had been reversed before the price reduction became automatic. In the unexplained absence of the person who was the relevant decisionmaker within the Government at the time, Nicholas J considered at  the chance the Commonwealth would not have reversed the price reduction to be less than 10%.
Sanofi disputed that interest was payable on compensation ordered under the undertaking as to damages. While his Honour did not finally decide the point, Nicholas J indicated at  that he would have ordered Sanofi to pay simple interest on the sum awarded on the basis that it would have been just and equitable to do so.
In light of the evidence that it would take only 2 to 3 weeks for Apotex to have written its own Product Information, Nicholas J would not have denied the Commonwealth recovery because the Product Information (and other stipulated regulatory disclosures) infringed Sanofi’s copyright. His Honour considered at  there was “good reason to believe” that no interlocutory injunction would have been granted to restrain copyright infringement in that time frame.
- Australian Patent No 597784 for the dextro-rotatory enantiomer of methyl alpha–5 (4,5,6,7-tetrahydro (3,2-c) thieno pyridyl) (2-chlorophenyl)-acetate, a process for its preparation, and pharmaceutical compositions containing it. ?
- One curiosity of this outcome is that Sanofi’s corresponding patents in Canada and the USA were both upheld as valid and infringed. ?
- Further interlocutory injunctions were put in place pending the outcomes of the appeals. ?
- In essence, while there was only one source of clopidogrel – Sanofi (and BMS as a licensee) – clopidogrel was listed in the PBS in formulary F1. As soon as a second, competing source obtained listing, Sanofi’s listing would be moved into formulary F2 with an automatic price reduction of 12.5% imposed by statute. See  – . Paragraphs  –  contain a useful explanation of how the pricing of products listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme works and, in particular, the automatic reductions on pricing that apply when a second (usually generic) drug is listed. ?
- The evidence disclosed that Apotex’ strategy, having successfully developed its generic clopidogrel (and having at least a further 18 months to complete development of a product based on a different salt), was (1) to secure ARTG listing then in short order (2) to apply for PBS listing, (3) to launch to the trade on an “at risk” basis – i.e. ensure the trade knew Apotex might have to withdraw the product if Sanofi’s patent was valid and (4) then to put Sanofi on notice of its plans to launch by bringing the revocation proceeding. An explicit part of the strategy was to secure the benefit of the undertaking as to damages if Sanofi did block sales through an interlocutory injunction. ?
- The trial judge reached the statutory age for retirement in that month. ?
- Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Apotex Pty Ltd (2017) 249 FCR 17 ?
- The fact that the person was no longer working for the Commonwealth was not a sufficient justification for the failure to call her. ?
- The Copyright Act 1968 was subsequently amended to preclude the use of copyright against such materials. See now s 44BA. ?