International pharmaceutical company Pfizer is facing a $1-billion bill in compensation and legal costs to local distributors Lasco and Medimpex in a dispute over a blood-pressure medication.
The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a 2009 Supreme Court ruling in favour of Lasco and Medimpex.
At the centre of the dispute is the drug Amlodipine (Norvase) which is used to treat high blood pressure.
The parties had been in court since 2002, and in 2005, Pfizer got an injunction preventing Lasco and Medimpex from selling the drug.
Pfizer had complained that the companies were infringing on its patent and sought to block them from selling their products.
Pfizer was granted patent for the substance in Jamaica on January 22, 2007.
In 2009, Justice Roy Jones, now retired, had ruled that since Pfizer's patent had expired in Egypt from March 31, 1997, it could not legally register the patent in Jamaica.
Under the Patents Act of 1857, once a patent expires in another country, it cannot be registered in Jamaica.
Pfizer then took the matter to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that Jones erred.
But Lasco and Medimpex argued that Pfizer's patent in Jamaica was invalid as it had expired in another country on March 31, 1997.
They further said the substance in the production of the blood-pressure drug was published in journals and made available for public and common use in Jamaica from October 1986.
The court unanimously upheld the 2009 Supreme Court ruling and ordered Pfizer to pay compensation and legal costs, which would run up to $1 billion.
The matter was heard by Court of Appeal President Seymour Panton, Karl Harrison (now retired) and Justice Mahadev Dukharan.
In handing down its decision, the court made several recommendations.
It ordered that an enquiry be conducted as it regards damages payable to the two companies.
The court also said the 1857 act needs urgent legislative intervention. It noted that a draft bill was done some years ago with a view to modernising the statute but, to date, nothing has materialised.
The court said it was universally accepted that the existence of patent in the pharmaceutical industry limits the supply of alternative drugs for quite a number of years, so steps should be taken by the relevant authorities in order to bring about the well-needed changes.
Lasco and Medimpex sold generic forms of the drug which were cheaper than what was being sold by Pfizer.