The answer? Not much, in itself. If one patent is good, 132 is probably fine too. That was Judge Easterbrook’s reasoning in a recent decision addressing indirect purchasers’ antitrust challenge to AbbVie’s so-called “patent thicket” of 132 patents around the blockbuster drug Humira, arguing the sheer number of patents blocked would-be biosimilar competition. But “if AbbVie made 132 inventions,” Judge Easterbrook asked rhetorically, “why can’t it hold 132 patents?”  As he noted, Thomas Edison alone held 1,093 patents. Having lots of patents shouldn’t be an antitrust issue, according to Judge Easterbrook. It’s how you use the patents.

The case is Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al. v. AbbVie Inc. et al. Importantly, the plaintiffs did not challenge the validity of the 132 patents, nor did they allege fraud on the Patent Office.  Instead, plaintiffs argued the 132 patents are too weak for AbbVie to exclude others from the Humira market, and to allow AbbVie to challenge the entrance of biosimilars in court. But, according to the Court, there really is no such thing as a “weak” patent. Patents are valid or invalid, and valid patents can be broad or narrow in scope. A narrow patent is just as valid as a broad one, according to the Court, and the First Amendment protects the right to assert presumptively valid patents in court, as long as the claim is not otherwise baseless.

Unable to challenge obtaining the 132 patents or their assertion in court, plaintiffs turned to the outcome of those assertions: settlements with potential entrants setting the entrance dates at various points in 2023, well before the last of the 132 patents expires in 2034. The Court concluded, however, that these were not reverse payment settlements. AbbVie did not make a payment to any of the defendants. Plaintiffs claimed the settlements reflected a conspiracy between AbbVie and its competitors to allocate the market to AbbVie through 2022. Judge Easterbrook addressed that claim with simple logic: “If this is a cartel…, then all settlements of patent cases violate the Sherman Act.” The settlements did what settlements are supposed to do: compromise.

This does not spell the end of patent thicket claims. A thicket of invalid or inapplicable patents might be a different story. But one thing is clear: plaintiffs will need to come up with more than just the sheer number of patents, because there really is no answer to the question, “When is one more patent too many?”

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Photo of Siegmund Y. Gutman Siegmund Y. Gutman

Siegmund (“Sige”) Gutman is chair of the Life Sciences Patent Practice, a partner in the Litigation Department, and a member of the Patent Law and Intellectual Property Groups.

Sige is an accomplished patent litigator, frequently representing clients before trial and appellate courts, as…

Siegmund (“Sige”) Gutman is chair of the Life Sciences Patent Practice, a partner in the Litigation Department, and a member of the Patent Law and Intellectual Property Groups.

Sige is an accomplished patent litigator, frequently representing clients before trial and appellate courts, as well as arbitration panels. In the life sciences area, his practice focuses on developing and executing market exclusivity and freedom-to-operate strategies, including patent office and FDA regulatory strategies, for leading biologics, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device clients. He has extensive experience successfully litigating biologic drug patent and Hatch-Waxman cases, and has frequently spoken and written about issues relating to biosimilars and generic drugs. Sige’s background combines a graduate degree in molecular and cell biology and biophysical chemistry with more than 20 years of industry experience, including serving as senior patent litigation counsel for Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company.

He advises clients on patent matters involving a wide range of technologies, including therapeutic proteins such as monoclonal antibodies, antibody-drug conjugates, nucleic acids, gene therapy, stem cells, expression systems, screening methodologies, purification processes, DNA microarrays, small molecules and polymer chemistry.

Sige also has extensive experience in inter-partes patent office actions, including oppositions, and providing strategic patent counseling, including addressing product life cycle management and patent portfolio development issues, as well as preparing third-party patent landscape analyses.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Sige was a partner at another Am Law 100 firm.

While in graduate school, Sige worked on elucidating the 3-D structure of an auto-catalytic RNA using molecular biological, biochemical and biophysical techniques. He also previously worked for a major manufacturer of photocopiers and printers, where he helped develop novel color toner particles using electrochemical, photochemical and polymer chemical techniques.

Photo of Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including advertising, aerospace, alcoholic beverages, appliances, building materials, consumer products, defense, franchise, medical devices, metals, mining, natural resources, oil and gas, packaging, pharmaceuticals, software and telecommunications. He also has developed substantial experience advising clients regarding the application of the antitrust laws to the pharmaceutical industry, the agriculture industry, trade associations and the energy industry.

Photo of David Munkittrick David Munkittrick

David Munkittrick is a litigator and trial attorney. His practice focuses on complex and large-scale antitrust, copyright and entertainment matters in all forms of dispute resolution and litigation, from complaint through appeal.

David has been involved in some of the most significant antitrust…

David Munkittrick is a litigator and trial attorney. His practice focuses on complex and large-scale antitrust, copyright and entertainment matters in all forms of dispute resolution and litigation, from complaint through appeal.

David has been involved in some of the most significant antitrust matters over the past few years, obtaining favorable results for Fortune 500 companies and other clients in bench and jury trials involving price discrimination and group boycott claims. His practice includes the full range of antitrust matters and disputes: from class actions to competitor suits and merger review. David advises antitrust clients in a range of industries, including entertainment, automotive, pharmaceutical, healthcare, agriculture, hospitality, financial services, and sports.

David also advises music, publishing, medical device, sports, and technology clients in navigating complex copyright issues and compliance. He has represented some of the most recognized names in entertainment, including Sony Music Entertainment, Lady Gaga, U2, Madonna, Daft Punk, RCA Records, BMG Music Publishing, Live Nation, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Universal Music Group and Warner/Chappell.

David maintains an active pro bono practice, supporting clients in the arts and in immigration proceedings. He has been repeatedly recognized as Empire State Counsel by the New York State Bar Association for his pro bono service, and is a recipient of Proskauer’s Golden Gavel Award for excellence in pro bono work.

When not practicing law, David spends time practicing piano. He recently made his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall with a piano trio and accompanying a Schubert lieder.

David frequently speaks on antitrust and copyright issues, and has authored or co-authored numerous articles and treatise chapters, including:

  • Causation and Remoteness, the U.S. Perspective, in GCR Private Litigation Guide.
  • Data Breach Litigation Involving Consumer Class Actions, in Proskauer on Privacy: A Guide to Privacy and Data Security Law in the Information Age.
  • Location Privacy: Technology and the Law, in Proskauer on Privacy: A Guide to Privacy and Data Security Law in the Information Age.
  • FTC Enforcement of Privacy, in Proskauer on Privacy: A Guide to Privacy and Data Security Law in the Information Age.
  • The Role of Experts in Music Copyright Cases, Intellectual Property Magazine.
  • Nonprofit Education: A Historical Basis for Tax Exemption in the Arts, 21 NYSBA Ent., Arts, & Sports L.J. 67
  • A Founding Father of Modern Music Education: The Thought and Philosophy of Karl W. Gehrkens, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education
  • Jackson Family Wines, Inc. v. Diageo North America, Inc. Represented Diageo in trademark infringement litigation