USTR 2018 Special 301 Report: Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Innovation and Market Access

Last month, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its 2018 Special 301 Report (the Report), identifying trading partners that do not adequately or effectively protect and enforce intellectual property (IP) rights or otherwise deny market access to U.S. innovators and creators that rely on protection of their IP rights.  The Report calls on U.S. trading partners to address IP-related challenges with a special focus on the countries identified on the Watch List and Priority Watch List.

Countries identified on the Watch List are:

  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Egypt
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Jamaica
  • Lebanon
  • Mexico
  • Pakistan
  • Peru
  • Romania
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Switzerland
  • Tajikistan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vietnam

Countries identified on the Priority Watch List are:

  • Algeria
  • Argentina
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • China
  • Colombia
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Kuwait
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Venezuela

With respect to pharmaceutical and medical device innovation and market access, the Report details the efforts of the USTR over the last year to engage with trading partners to ensure that U.S. IP owners have a full and fair opportunity to use and profit from their IP, including by the promotion of transparent and fair pricing and reimbursement systems.  In addition to ensuring that trading partners have robust IP systems, the USTR has sought to reduce market access barriers to pharmaceutical products and medical devices, including measures that discriminated against U.S. companies, were not adequately transparent or did not offer sufficient opportunity for meaningful stakeholder engagement.  Additionally, the USTR pressed trading partners to appropriately recognize the value of innovative medicines and medical devices so that these partners can fairly contribute their share to the research and development of new treatments and cures.  USTR activities with respect to specific countries are described in more detail below:

  • Canada and Mexico: Sought strong IP provisions during the renegotiation and modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) including seeking provisions that ensure the national-level government processes for the listing and reimbursement of pharmaceutical products and medical devices are transparent, provide procedural fairness, are nondiscriminatory and provide full market access for U.S. products.
  • South Korea: Sought to obtain, through negotiations, improvement and better implementation by South Korea of the U.S.-Korea Tree Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA).  Specifically, the USTR sought to obtain Korea’s commitment to better implement its KORUS FTA commitments to provide fair and non-discriminatory treatment of pharmaceutical products, including imported products, under certain medical pricing and reimbursement programs.
  • Japan: Engaged with Japan in the context of the U.S.-Japan Economic Dialogue to ensure transparency and fairness and address other concerns with respect to pharmaceutical and medical devices pricing and reimbursement policies.
  • China: Pressed China on a range of issues that impact and affect the pharmaceutical sector.  These included: providing for effective protection against unfair commercial use, unauthorized disclosure of test and other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products, as well as expediting the implementation of an effective mechanism for the early resolution of potential patent disputes.
  • India: Engaged with India to secure meaningful IP reforms on a number of longstanding issues. These issues included:  criteria for patentability and compulsory licensing as well as protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure of test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.
  • Indonesia: Engaged Indonesia to resolve a number of concerns regarding revisions to Indonesia’s patent law. These revisions included:  criteria for patentability, local manufacturing and use requirements and the grounds and procedures for issuing compulsory licenses.
  • Argentina: Engaged Argentina with respect to concerns regarding the scope of patentable subject matter and effective protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical products.
  • Saudi Arabia: Engaged Saudi Arabia regarding its protection and enforcement of patents and effective protection against commercial use as well as the unauthorized disclosure of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approval for pharmaceutical products.
  • United Arab Emirates: Sought confirmation that the United Arab Emirates will continue to protect pharmaceuticals through local procedures and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) patent system.

The Report also highlights concerns regarding IP protection and enforcement and market access barriers affecting U.S. entities that rely on IP protection, including those in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.  Examples of such barriers by trading partners include:

  • Unfair issuance, threat of issuance, or the encouragement of others to issue compulsory licenses. Trading partners being monitored with respect to such activities include Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, India and Malaysia.
  • Employment of measures that are discriminatory, nontransparent, or otherwise trade-restrictive that have the potential to hinder market access in the pharmaceutical and medical device sectors and which might potentially result in higher product costs. Examples include unreasonable regulatory approval delays and non-transparent reimbursement policies (such as pricing and reimbursement systems which are non-market-based or that do not otherwise appropriately recognize the value of innovative medicines and medical devices).  Trading partners being monitored with respect to such activities include Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Turkey and New Zealand.

In our next few posts, we will examine in detail the USTR’s findings with the countries on the Priority Watch List.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller.

Brazilian Mailbox Patents: Big Loss for Alexion

On April 20, 2018, Alexion Pharmaceutical Inc.’s (Alexion) patent (PI9507594-1) covering Soliris® (eculizumab) was the subject of an unfavorable decision by the Superior Court of Justice involving the term of mailbox patents in Brazil.  Soliris® (eculizumab) is a humanized antibody targeting complement 5 and is used to treat paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH).

The Third Panel of the Court decided that the patent term for mailbox patents should be 20 years from the filing date and not 10 years from the date of grant.  The Court was persuaded by public health interest arguments made by associations representing various generic companies, specifically those citing the high price of Soliris® in Brazil (around 5,000 USD per unit).

The Soliris® patent is what is known as a “mailbox patent”.  Mailbox patents arose in Brazil following the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on January 1, 1995.  When the WTO was created, one of the agreements that came into effect was the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. At the time, most member countries agreed to apply the TRIPS Agreement immediately upon joining the WTO. However, developing countries were permitted certain transitional periods in order to have sufficient time to enact new laws that were TRIPS compliant. One transitional period allowed developing countries up to ten years (specifically, until January 1, 2005) to introduce patent protection for pharmaceutical and agrochemical products. However, Article 70.8 of the TRIPS Agreement provided that developing countries that utilized this transitional period were required to allow patent applications to be filed on pharmaceutical and agrochemical products beginning on January 1, 1995, even though a decision to grant a patent on such applications could be delayed up until January 1, 2005. This provision of the TRIPS Agreement is often referred to as the “mailbox” provision (meaning that a “mailbox” would be created to receive and store such applications) and patents issuing from applications filed pursuant to this provision are frequently referred to as “mailbox” patents.

When Brazil became a member of the WTO, the grant of patents on pharmaceutical and agrochemical products was not permitted. As a result in 1996, Brazil enacted a Patent Statute that provided patent protection for these inventions.  Pharmaceutical and agrochemical product related patent applications filed in Brazil between January 1, 1995, and May 14, 1997 (date of publication of the Patent Statute) received the same treatment as other patent applications filed after 1997. When the Brazilian Patent Office (Instituto Nacional da Propriedade Industrial (INPI)) started to examine and grant pharmaceutical and agrochemical patents, the concept of transitory and mailbox applications no longer became relevant.

The issue involving the Soliris® patent involved the patent term of mailbox patents. In general, the Brazilian Patent Statute (Article 40) provides that the term of a patent is 20 years from its filing date or 10 years from the date of grant, whichever is longer. Specifically, Article 40 establishes:

Article 40 – The term of a patent for an invention shall be 20 (twenty) years and for a utility model 15 (fifteen) years as from the filing date.

Sole Paragraph – The term shall not be less than ten years for inventions and seven years for utility models, as from the date of grant, except where INPI is prevented from carrying out the substantive examination of the application due to pending litigation or for reasons beyond its control.

However, for patents filed between January 1, 1995 and May 14, 1997, Brazil’s legislators decided to establish a limit on the pendency of examination of such applications by INPI (which was already struggling with backlog at the time) until December 31, 2004.

The legislation reads as follows:

Article 229…Sole Paragraph – The patenting criteria of this Law shall apply on the effective filing date of the application in Brazil, or on the priority date, if any, to applications relating to pharmaceutical products and to chemical products for agriculture filed between January 1, 1995 and May 14, 1997, and protection is assured as from the date of grant of the patent for the remaining term, counted from the date of filing in Brazil, such term being limited to the one prescribed in the heading of Article 40.

Article 229-B – Product patent applications filed between January 1, 1995 and May 14, 1997, which were not granted protection under Article 9 letters “b” and “c” of Law No. 5.772 of [December 21,] 1971, whose applicants failed to exercise the right specified in Articles 230 and 231, shall be decided until December 31, 2004 in conformity with this Law.

For many years, INPI issued mailbox patents well beyond December 31, 2004. These patents have been receiving a term of 10 years from grant. For example, Alexion’s patent covering Soliris® was granted on August 10, 2010 and received a 10-year term having an expiration date of August 10, 2020.

In 2013, INPI filed several lawsuits involving mailbox patents against companies like AbbVie, Alexion, Astellas, Bayer, and Merck seeking to reduce the term of mailbox patents from 10 years from grant to 20 years from filing. For a general overview of the cases see infographic here:  MAILBOXLITGATION.

The decision by the Superior Court of Justice involving Alexion’s patent is limited to the arguments balancing the public and private interests namely, that 20 years from is sufficient time for companies to enjoy patent protection over their inventions.  Unfortunately, this decision ignores the incredible backlog of applications pending at INPI.

What are the next steps for Alexion?  Alexion can appeal the case to the Supreme Court.  Alternatively, Alexion can wait for a favorable decision on a mailbox patent by another Brazilian court.  Specifically, as will be discussed in a subsequent post, the Brazilian courts can may still change their opinion regarding the patent term of mailbox patents.

Please continue to watch BRICS & Beyond for updates on litigation involving mailbox patents in Brazil.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller, Roberto Rodrigues Pinho and Brenno Telles.