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DOJ Will Not Challenge COVID-19 Response Distribution Collaboration

The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) has issued a second Business Review Letter pursuant to the expedited review process it announced on March 24, 2020 to review conduct related to COVID-19 within seven days. The letter released on April 20, 2020 issued to AmerisourceBergen Corporation, which follows a letter issued last week to medical/surgical distributors, again shows the DOJ is open to creative solutions that combat COVID-19, especially when those solutions are “focused on facilitating the government’s efforts” to get medical supplies where they are needed most.

The Business Review Letter states that the DOJ has no present intention to challenge AmerisourceBergen’s collaboration with federal government agencies, including FEMA and HHS and other private sector distributors to ensure supply and facilitate distribution of medications and other healthcare products to treat COVID-19 patients.

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Sham-Wow! Antitrust Liability May Attach to Sham Administrative Petitions

Addressing whether the “sham” exception to Noerr-Pennington immunity is limited to sham litigation in courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a lower court’s summary judgment of no antitrust liability, finding that antitrust liability can attach to sham administrative petitions and that the sham litigation exception is not limited to court litigation.  Tyco Healthcare Group LP v. Mutual Pharm. Co., Inc., Case No. 13-1386 (Fed. Cir., Aug. 6, 2014) (Bryson, J.) (Newman, J., dissenting).

Tyco Healthcare acquired patents relating to temazepam, an insomnia drug marketed as Restoril.  Seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to manufacture and sell generic temazepam, Mutual Pharmaceutical filed an Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA), certifying that its generic product would not infringe any patents.  Tyco disagreed and sued Mutual for infringement under the Hatch-Waxman Act.  The district court rejected this claim, reasoning that products manufactured to the ANDA’s specification could not infringe.  Tyco then filed a citizen petition with the FDA, urging new guidelines to require generic temazepam manufacturers to more extensively demonstrate bioequivalence to Restoril.  The FDA denied Tyco’s citizen’s petition “indicating that, in the FDA’s view, it was wholly without merit.”

In response to Tyco’s infringement suit, Mutual brought antitrust counterclaims, including allegations that Tyco’s suit and citizen petition were shams.  In other words, Mutual argued that Tyco used illegitimate means to keep Mutual’s product off the market.  On summary judgment, the district court rejected these counterclaims, holding that it was reasonable for Tyco to proceed with its infringement action and that antitrust liability for sham claims cannot apply to filing administrative petitions because the exception “is expressly limited to litigation.” Mutual appealed.

The Federal Circuit vacated the rulings on antitrust issues and remanded for further consideration.  With regard to Tyco’s Hatch-Waxman claim, the Federal Circuit found that it was not unreasonable for a patent owner to allege infringement under Hatch-Waxman if the patent owner has evidence that the as-marketed commercial ANDA product will infringe, even though the hypothetical product specified in the ANDA could not infringe.  The Court concluded that further inquiry was necessary to determine if Tyco’s factual theory of infringement was objectively baseless.  With regard to the administrative proceeding, the Court found that the sham exception to Noerr-Pennington is not limited to court litigation, and that it has been applied to administrative petitions, including FDA citizen petitions.  Accordingly, it remanded this counterclaim for resolution of fact issues regarding whether the citizen petition was objectively baseless and motivated by a subjective desire to directly interfere with Mutual, as well as whether Mutual suffered any anticompetitive injury.

Judge Newman dissented from the court’s conversion of routine patent litigation into antitrust violations, arguing that “[e]nforcement of a presumptively valid patent against a product that infringes by statute [Hatch-Waxman] cannot be deemed objectively baseless” and patent holders have “the right to communicate with the FDA concerning public information on matters within the agency’s authority and responsibility without incurring antitrust liability.”

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FTC Hit with Lawsuit by Target of its Fraudulent Patent Enforcement Investigation

On January 13, 2014, MPHJ Technology Investment LLC (MPHJ) filed a seven-count complaint against the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging various constitutional and other violations, including violations of MPHJ’s First Amendment rights and violations of the Separation of Powers Doctrine.

The FTC began an investigation into MPHJ’s business practices and in December 2013 served MPHJ with a draft complaint.  The FTC’s complaint alleges that MPHJ sent 16,000 demands to small companies to pay $1,000 per employee to license MPHJ’s patents over document scanning equipment.  In particular, the FTC took issue with two statements in the demands.  The first was that MPHJ would file suit if the company did not respond and the second was that many companies with similar technology promptly paid licensing fees upon notification of the infringement.  These statements were both false, according to the FTC, because MPHJ never intended to file suit and never actually filed suit against any recipient and also because MPHJ only sold 17 out of the 16,000 demanded licenses.  Therefore, the FTC contends MPHJ’s demand letters constitute deceptive business practices.

MPHJ filed its complaint against the FTC in response to the FTC’s draft complaint.  MPHJ alleges that its patents are valid, that they are being infringed by thousands of companies, that it has a right to enforce those patents, that the first step to doing so is sending demand letters to infringers, and that those demands may legally contain a threat to sue for infringement.  MPHJ’s complaint states that the FTC has not contradicted or even disagreed with any of these assertions.  Instead, according to MPHJ, the FTC’s position is that a litigation threat not followed by a prompt lawsuit is a violation on its own.  In any event, MPHJ alleges the FTC does not have jurisdiction to interfere with MPHJ’s patent activity because the letters at issue do not meet the commerce requirement for Section 5 enforcement.  Moreover, MPHJ alleges that the right to enforce a federally granted patent is covered under the First Amendment right to petition the government.  As such, its patent enforcement activity is a petition to the government, and protected by the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.  MPHJ also charges the FTC with failing to do the requisite pre-suit investigation to find infringement as required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.

MPHJ’s complaint was filed in the Western District of Texas as MPHJ Tech. Inv. LLC v. FTC et. al., Case No. 6:14-cv-00011.

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