Pfizer’s Viagra patent upheld in China

A Chinese court on Thursday ordered two local drugs companies to pay compensation to Pfizer of the US for infringing the trademark of the impotence treatment Viagra.

The court decision barring the generics is the latest stage in a legal battle over Viagra in China that has become an important test case for the country’s patent system. However, it is unclear if the ruling will stem the flow of illegal copies of the drug.

The Beijing No 1 Intermediate Court confirmed a ruling earlier this year that upheld the patent on the US group’s erectile dysfunction drug and ordered the two Chinese companies to stop sales of a generic version, a court official said.

Beijing Health New Concept Pharmacy and Lianhuan Pharmaceuticals were ordered to stop selling Viagra and to pay Pfizer Rmb300,000 ($38,000) in damages, according to the Xinhua news agency. Pfizer could not be reached for comment on Thursday at its offices in China.

The legal tussle over Viagra began in 2004 when the State Intellectual Property Office said the patent on sildenafil citrate, the main ingredient, was invalid because it was not backed up by sufficient technical explanation of the drug’s uses. Sipo had initially approved the patent in 2001 after a seven-year review. By revoking the patent, it opened the way to generic versions of the drug.

However, in June the Beijing No 1 Intermediate Court ruled that the patent was valid, overturning the decision of the patent authorities. A group of 13 Chinese drugs companies has since appealed this ruling to the Beijing People’s High Court.

Pfizer has invested heavily in its legal defence of Viagra in China, a rarity among foreign companies which are often wary of publicly challenging government bodies.

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