AstraZeneca and the EU Sector Inquiry: When Do Patent Filings Violate Competition Law?

31 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2012

See all articles by Josef Drexl

Josef Drexl

Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition; Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU)

Date Written: January 31, 2012


In its Pharmaceutical Sector Inquiry Report of 2009, the European Commission identified ‘defensive patent strategies’ as a potential anti-competitive abuse in the sense of Article 102 TFEU. Such strategies include in particular patent filings that may delay the market entry of generic drugs or obstruct innovation activity of other originator companies. Yet the Report refrains from a an in-depth legal analysis of such behaviour. With the objective of clarifying the legal implications of the Sector Inquiry Report, the article analyses the AstraZeneca judgment of the General Court of 2010 as a precedent for assessing the anti-competitive character of patent filings under EU competition law. Thereby, it is argued that patent law does not insulate filings against competition-law liability. Yet the judgment, which is limited to ‘static’ price competition between originator companies and generics producers, does not provide sufficient guidance for analysing harm to ‘dynamic’ competition in innovation among originator companies. In this regard, the article advocates a cautious approach, according to which a violation of EU competition law requires anti-competitive intent for which the party arguing a violation should carry the burden of proof. The article also refers to the Boehringer case, which was settled by the Commission in Summer 2011, after Boehringer agreed to give up its allegedly anti-competitive blocking patents.

Keywords: patent law, competition law, medicinal law, pharmaceuticals, innovation

Suggested Citation

Drexl, Josef, AstraZeneca and the EU Sector Inquiry: When Do Patent Filings Violate Competition Law? (January 31, 2012). Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property & Competition Law Research Paper No. 12-02, Available at SSRN: or

Josef Drexl (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition ( email )

Marstallplatz 1
Munich, Bayern 80539


Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU)

Munich, 80539

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