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26 April 2018Americas

LSPN North America 2018: Optimism over UPC despite delays

Panellists discussing global patent enforceability at the Life Sciences Patent Network North America event have expressed optimism over the Unified Patent Court (UPC), despite uncertainty about its implementation.

The UPC is currently on hold amid a constitutional challenge to it in Germany, while the impact of Brexit is currently unclear. Like Germany, the UK has not yet ratified the UPC Agreement, and London is due to host the life sciences seat of the UPC central division.

Despite this, pharmaceutical industry experts still believe that the UPC is imminent.

“I think it will happen,” said Konstantinos Andrikopoulos, senior director, IP at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, who was speaking at the conference—which is being hosted by LSIPR—today, April 26, in Boston.

“But, we will have to be very careful on which patents we choose and bring through the system,” he added.

Philip Strassburger, senior vice president, IP strategy and litigation at Purdue Pharma, agreed that the UPC is likely. However, he said there are still areas that will need clarifying. “Let’s see how they do at enforcing patents.”

Should the UPC be established, there are still questions about potential forum-shopping, as the central division will have three seats (currently Paris, Munich and London), while there will be other regional and local divisions.

“Some jurisdictions are more favourable to patents than others,” commented Strassburger. “Germany is a pretty good place to enforce patents.”

He said this is largely a reflection of the judges’ capabilities in the jurisdiction. Also, the country understands the importance of protecting drugs and attracting investment, according to Strassburger.

Another area of focus during the panel discussion was the tension between IP enforcement and access to medicines in developing countries.

Shahan Islam, senior corporate counsel, IP enforcement group at Pfizer, said that in developing countries, the issue of access to medicines almost always comes into play when enforcing IP.

He gave an example where Pfizer filed a patent infringement action against the largest generics producer in Nairobi, Kenya over a drug for treating AIDs.

“We didn’t initially ask for a licence, because they said there’s a huge AIDs crisis there,” he explained. “The problem is, there is clear infringement.”

He concluded that it is vital to enforce IP rights to continue the development of effective drugs.

“Innovation is absolutely critical, and we need the strong incentives.”

The LSPN North America is taking place today at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Join the conversation using the hashtag #LSPNBoston18

[Update at 4.30pm: After we published this story, the UK Intellectual Property Office issued an announcement that the UK has now ratified the UPC.]

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