More than a year after reserving judgment in an urgent application, Judge Colleen Collis has finally handed down her ruling, confirming pharmaceutical giant Bayer’s patent rights.

Bayer has won its court challenge, preventing Clicks from selling a cheaper generic blood thinning medication, in competition with Bayer’s patented product, GroundUp reports.

Last year, Bayer approached the Court of Commissioner of Patents in Gauteng to stop Clicks from selling the tablets. The case before Collis was about ‘evergreening’, in which pharmaceutical companies who have patents on medicines extend the life-time of the patent.

In the case of Rivaroxaban, the patent was due to expire in December 2020. Bayer was granted a new patent extending the expiry to January 2026 on the basis that it changed the dosage to once a day.

Bayer claimed the one-day dosage was an ‘inventive step’ as provided for in patent law.

After the initial patent expired (in December 2020), two rival companies, Austell and Dr Reddy’s, launched generic versions of Rivaroxaban for sale in SA.

While Bayer obtained an interdict against the two companies, that interdict did not extend to the pharmacies which had stocks of the generic products, including Dr Reddy’s anticoagulant drug Rivaxored. 

Dis-Chem and Alpha Pharm reached a settlement with Bayer, agreeing not to sell the generic drugs, but Clicks chose to oppose the urgent interdict application which came before Collis.

The judge explained that the application was brought pending the final determination of a patent infringement action instituted by Bayer against Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, the GroundUp report says.

She referred to the fact that in December 2021, Judge Raylene Keightley had granted an interim interdict against Dr Reddy’s, the company that imported Rivaxored to SA.

‘In terms of that interdict, the court found that the patent was prima facie valid and that the sale of Rivaxored in SA constituted a prima facie infringement of the (Bayer) patent. This has not been taken on appeal,’ Collis said.

Notwithstanding this, Clicks had refused to stop selling the drug. The judge said Bayer had contended that the very purpose of the order granted by Keightley was being defeated by Clicks.

That while Clicks was not bound by the order, its conduct undermined the authority of the court to prevent unlawful commercial conduct and was ‘showing scant regard for the findings of the court’. In considering the merits, Collis said Clicks had ‘baldly asserted’ that the Bayer patent was invalid and that it was not prepared to accept that the change in dosage was an ‘inventive step’.

However, Bayer argued that in Dr Reddy’s application, the inventiveness of the patent was dealt with through expert evidence and had been ‘comprehensively dealt with in the Keightley judgment’. 

Clicks had also challenged the constitutionality of the Patents Act which permitted so-called ‘evergreening’ through dosage changes, Collis said, according to the GroundUp report.

However, Clicks had failed to disclose any facts relevant to this claim and Collis could not make any determination of it. She said it was ‘undisputed’ Bayer was losing sales as a result of the continued sale by Clicks of Rivaxored and Bayer would find it difficult to prove the full extent of its losses should it have to launch a damages claim.

Clicks had also not argued that it would be prejudiced by the grant of the interim interdict.

Instead it argued that Bayer would only lose R3m in sales based on its current stock levels and this prejudice is outweighed by the public interest of the public being able to access a cheaper alternative.

Collis said the public interest argument had been raised before Keightley by Dr Reddy’s and in an unrelated patent case before the SCA, and it had been rejected in both forums.

Full GroundUp report