Are methods of calculating rediculous alleged legal costs trade-secrets?

novartis    teva

Teva successfully opposed IL 184027 to Novartis titled “COMPOUND TRISODIUM [3-((1S,3R)-1- BIPHENYL-4-YLMETHYL-3- ETHOXYCARBONYL-1- BUTYLCARBAMOYL)PROPIONATE-(S)- 3¶METHYL-2¶PENTANOYL{2¶¶ TETRAZOL-5-YLATE)BIPHENYL- 4¶YLMETHYL}AMINO)BUTYRATE] HEMIPENTAHYDRATE, ITS PHARMACEUTICAL COMPOSITIONS, METHOD FOR ITS PREPARATION AND USE THEREOF IN THE PREPARATION OF MEDICAMENTS.”

The application was filed on 18 June 2007 as the national phase entry of PCT/US2006/043710. A divisional application was filed as IL 219782. The application published for opposition purposes on 30 November 2014, and on 25 February 2015 Teva Pharmaceuticals LTD filed an opposition. One day later Unipharm also filed an Opposition. Subsequently, since there was a pending divisional application and because the opposer had not filed their statement of case, the Opposers filed for suspension of the Opposition proceeding for 18 months as per Commissioner Circular 020/2012 “Opposition to a divisional patent or to a patent that is divided” from 18 November 2012. The Applicant opposed the request to stay the opposition. However, on 9 August 2014, the Commissioner agreed to stay the opposition proceeding.

On 7 September 2015, the applicant abandoned the divisional application and requested that the Opposition against the parent application be renewed and that the Opposer file their statement of case. The commissioner accepted this, and on 9 September 2015 gave the Opposers 60 days to file their statement of cases.

On 8 November 2015 Teva announced that they were withdrawing their opposition for “pure business reasons”. On 30 November 2016, the Commissioner ruled that the Teva opposition be closed and that the Unipharm opposition continue.

detailed-costsOn 11 January 2016, Novartis requested costs from TEVA. The costs request was supported by a statement from Liad Whatstein, Novartis’ counsel, but with many details thereof blacked out as they are allegedly business secrets and some are pertinent to the ongoing Opposition by Unipharm. They also requested a confidentiality order with respect to the blacked out data.

The Commissioner decided that Novartis had failed to make a case that the data should remain confidential, and issued a ruling on 4 February 2016 rejecting the confidentiality clause. Novartis’ counsel chose not to provide a time-sheet detailing the work done, considering this also as being a trade-secret.

Novartis’ Claims

The Applicant considers that TEVA’s withdrawing from their opposition puts them into the category of a party that loses their case. They do not think that the ongoing opposition by Unipharm should release TEVA from having to bear costs in a proceeding that they initiated. Thus Novartis alleges that TEVA should have to pay half the actual costs incurred by Novartis from when the opposition was filed until when it was abandoned, which comes to $17,136.72.

The Applicant claimed that due to the tight deadlines and the complicated scientific data they had to prepare for the opposition prior to the statement of case being filed. The complications are evidenced by Unipharm’s opposition and by the corresponding opposition filed in Europe. Furthermore, the Applicant claims that TEVA’s behavior and the time passed from when the opposition was filed until when it was withdrawn after the continuation was abandoned, created a state of affairs wherein TEVA could reasonably expect that Novartis would work on the opposition and incur costs thereby.

Novartis also claimed that TEVA had abused the opposition process by filing a baseless opposition simply to delay the patent issuing and to cause the divisional application to he withdrawn. Consequently Novartis considered that TEVA should pay costs.

 TEVA’s Claims

TEVA considers that Novartis is NOT entitled to costs at all and the cost request should be denied and Novartis should be charged for Teva having to respond to their costs claim. Alternatively, each side should bear their own costs.   Since the Opposition was terminated early it is by no means clear that were it to have continued, Novartis would have prevailed and would be entitled to costs for the preliminary part where Teva was involved. Teva alleges that if the Novartis application is refused, not only would Teva not have to compensate them, but conceivably Novartis would have to pay the costs  that Teva incurred in filing the statement of case.

Additionally, Teva considers that the Applicants actions and the costs incurred thereby in preparation of an anticipated opposition were needlessly incurred. Teva considers that from studying other statements of opposition, there is nothing to justify the preliminary and anticipatory actions that Novartis took, and certainly one cannot hold Teva responsible for such actions. Furthermore, the actions taken by the Applicant preceded the time when Teva had to submit their statement of case – which, in the event, were never submitted.

Teva went on to allege that the claimed expenses were unreasonable when considering the stage that the opposition procedure had reached. Furthermore, these so-called expenses were, in the main, not supported by an affidavit.

The Ruling

True, Teva filed an Opposition which was then abandoned early on. The Application is, however, still being opposed by Unipharm and has not issued as a patent. In this specific case, following review of the claims and counter-claims of the parties, Commissioner Kling concluded that the request for costs to be awarded to Teva should be deferred until the Unipharm opposition runs its course, depending on the outcome thereof.

The Commissioner has the authority to delay cost ruling under section 162b of the Law:

162b The commissioner is authorized to rule reasonable costs, to determine which partner should pay costs and how they should be paid.

Generally, the Commissioner rules costs in favour of the winning party. As a general rule, the side that abandons their case for whatever reason, and consequently a patent issues, is considered as having lost the proceeding and is to bear costs of the opposing party. (See 133957 cost ruling Pfizer Products Ltd vs. Teva Pharamaceuticals 14 February 2008). Nevertheless, the awarding of costs is left to the commissioner’s discretion and this is certainly the case where the abandoning of an Opposition does not necessarily lead to a patent issuing.

In this instance, despite Teva abandoning the Opposition the proceedings are ongoing. Unipharm’s opposition is still being fought and one cannot consider Novartis as being one who has won their battle. It is thus not the time for Novartis to claim costs. Consequently, at this stage the Commissioner is refraining from determining what costs the Applicant is entitled to, and what costs the Opposer is or may be entitled to. These will be determined once the fate of IL 184027 us known.

As an afterward and without final determination of the costs themselves, the Commissioner noted that it is rather difficult to rule on costs in the manner that they were submitted, with certain facts blacked out and no support for other contentions. This makes the reasonableness, necessity of and proportionality of the alleged expenses difficult to substantiate and makes it difficult to award real costs (see Supreme Court Ruling 891/05 Tnuva Cooperative for Marketing Israeli Produce vs. The Authority for Granting export Licences of the Department of Trade and Industry p.d 60(1) 600 (30 June 2005). This is particularly the case when considering the enormous costs claimed and the early stage at which the Opposition was abandoned by Teva, prior to submission of any substantive arguments.  See the ruling of the Then Deputy.  Commissioner re IL 113433 Smithkline Beecham Corporation (SKB) vs. Teva Pharmaceuticals (30 May 2005).

Interim Ruling re Costs in Il 184027 Teva vs. Novartis Oppostion Asa Kling 19 September 2016.

COMMENT

Whilst filing an opposition and then suspending until a divisional application issues or is abandoned could be considered as a delaying tactic, often filing such divisional applications is simply a means to keep an applications pending through parallel opposition proceedings, enabling a new claim approach not conceived at the time of filing to be considered. Since Unipharm is rather good at successfully opposing patents, it is a reasonable tactic for Teva to leave it to them to challenge the validity of the allowed claims. One suspects that Teva will have made relevant prior art and arguments available to Unipharm.

The successful opposer is entitled to claim costs from the applicant. Nevertheless, I am flabbergasted that Whatstein could make a claim for over $17,000 for costs incurred by having an opposition filed against his client prior to even having a statement of case requiring analysis being submitted. There were no patents or other prior art or other evidence that needed to be analyzed and no claims that needed consideration. Apart from informing Novartis that an Opposition had been filed, it is difficult to see what work was necessarily incurred.  Submitting a blacked out statement simply flags the fact that this is unreasonable. In desperation, I went to his website and discovered that as part of patent litigation “The firm orchestrated and designed complex experiments in patent infringement and opposition proceedings and uses a network of internationally acclaimed experts and external laboratories. In addition, the firm is involved in a large number of multi-jurisdictional patent proceedings.” This certainly goes some way to explain how $17,000 worth of costs could be accumulated, but one wonders if it was proportionate, reasonable and neccessary in response to an opposition being filed prior to relevant prior art and arguments being made of record.

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