Friday, 27 December 2013

Alimta: no such thing as a contingent abuse of process

This is a shorter version of an IPKat post, here.

It's worth taking a look at Actavis UK Ltd v Eli Lilly & Company [2013] EWHC 3749 (Pat), a decision of Mr Justice Arnold in the Patents Court, England and Wales, on 27 November 2013.

Eli Lilly held a patent for a cancer-treating drug, Alimta. Actavis wanted to market its own cancer-treating drug on the expiry of Eli Lilly's Alimta SPC and sought declarations of non-infringement in advance of that date. Actavis also wished this issue to be determined with respect to French, German, Italian and Spanish designations of the same patent in a single trial, and commenced two actions which the court said it had jurisdiction to deal with, ordering them to be tried together.

Eli Lilly served a defence, maintaining that Actavis had no locus standi to bring the proceedings because it had failed to comply with French and Spanish procedural requirements to give three months and one month's notice respectively before commencing proceedings. Actavis disputed that French and Spanish law applied, but in any event began two further actions to assist in addressing Eli Lilly's procedural arguments. Eli Lilly then applied to stay the later actions pending the trial in the earlier actions on the basis that they were an abuse of process because Actavis only commenced them in order to circumvent the French and Spanish procedural requirements. Eli Lilly's position was that a stay would be appropriate because (i) if the earlier actions were held to be ill-founded, the later actions would be an abuse of process, and (ii) if the earlier actions were held to be well-founded the later actions would be unnecessary.

Arnold J refused the application for a stay. In his view:

* Eli Lilly had not sought to strike out the earlier actions as a abuse of process, but argued that there would be an abuse of process in respect of the later actions if the earlier actions were held to be ill-founded. However, it was not proper for a court to stigmatise a claim as an abuse of process on a contingent basis. The problem arose by virtue of the earlier actions and the consequences in terms of lis pendens that those actions had.

* If Eli Lilly was right to say that the consequences of those actions being pending was to prevent it from raising the procedural objections that it wished to raise in the later actions, that was a natural consequence of the existence of the earlier actions -- not the consequence of bringing the later actions.

* Despite its apparent logic, Eli Lilly's application was logically incoherent. Even if the later actions were stayed, the court would not have deseized itself of those actions. Accordingly they would have lis pendens priority and would prevent actions being taken in France and Spain. If Eli Lilly was right that the earlier actions were ill-founded, and if it was right as to the consequences, it could raise its abuse of process objections to the later actions at that time.

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