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 Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels on antitrust compliance. Chris is also the founder and leader of the firm’s Price Gouging Practice, and is one of the key thought leaders in this space.

Chris handles antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including food and agriculture, financial services, media, telecom, technology, e-commerce, consumer products, natural resources, oil and gas, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.  He also serves as outside counsel to a large number of industry groups, including trade associations and cooperatives.

Chris has been recognized as a leading antitrust practitioner by Chambers, noting that clients describe him as “our primary thought partner – he’s very good at explaining the complex issues and making them easy to understand” and praising “his strong advocacy skills”; by The National Law Review as a “Go To Thought Leader 2020”; by Acritas as a “Star” in multiple years; by Benchmark Litigation as a National Litigation Star 2021; and by The Legal 500 United States for Antitrust: Civil Litigation/Class Actions.

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