Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Friday could be big for Lasco, Medimpex - Supreme Court set to hand down ruling in compensation battle with Pfizer

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Men entering the Belgian headquarters of US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

One of the most anticipated legal rulings in Jamaica in recent time is expected to be handed down in the Supreme Court on Friday when Justice Viviene Harris rules how much the international pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, should pay to Jamaican entities Lasco Distributors and Medimpex Jamaica Limited.

The two local firms are waiting on the court to determine the level of compensation to be awarded for losses they suffered when they were prevented from selling a generic form of the hypertension drug Norvasc.

Lasco has asked the court to award it US$311 million in damages plus interest, but Pfizer has countered that the Jamaican entity should be paid no more than US$518,000 for the period it was not allowed to sell the drug.

In the case of Medimpex, Pfizer is asking the court to rule that it should not pay more than US$68,000, instead of the US$11.5 million plus interest that the firm is demanding.

While the ruling is expected to provide a windfall for the two companies, the Jamaican Government could also benefit greatly with tax deductions from the payouts. At the top end, if the court agrees with Lasco and awards the US$311 million with interest (approximately US$490 million) the coffers of the State would swell by some US$60 million. At the other end, a payout of US$150 million plus interest would see that State raking in some US$29 million. An additional US$2 million could be added to the State's coffers if the court rules in favour of Medimpex.

The matter arose from an injunction granted to Pfizer in 2005, which remained in effect until 2012, when the United Kingdom Privy Council upheld rulings by the local courts which favoured Lasco and Medimpex. The local entities, in documents filed in court, have said the amount being sought is to recover the money and interest they lost because of the Pfizer injunction, which prevented them from taking advantage of the lower-priced drug it offered to thousands of Jamaicans who were in desperate need of the cheaper medication to fight hypertension.

The parties have been in court since 2002 when Pfizer complained that the companies were infringing on its patent, and eventually got court orders blocking them from selling their products. Pfizer was granted the patent for the drug Norvasc in Jamaica on January 22, 2007. In 2009, former Supreme Court judge Roy Jones ruled that since the international firm's patent had expired in Egypt from March 31, 1997, it could not legally register the patent in Jamaica.

The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the 2009 Supreme Court ruling and ordered Pfizer to pay compensation and legal costs. Pfizer lost at the Privy Council and since then the parties have been in court trying to convince the judge about the level of compensation.