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Dr. Rath Health Foundation

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Bristol-Myers settles charges by agreeing to patent limits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Bristol-Myers Squibb has agreed to settle antitrust charges that it illegally kept cheaper versions of three drugs off the market, the Federal Trade Commission said Friday.

The FTC had accused Bristol-Myers of a series of anti-competitive acts over the past decade to obstruct generic competition to its anti-anxiety drug BuSpar, and cancer drugs Taxol and Platinol.

The settlement, lasting 10 years, would eliminate Bristol-Myer's ability to temporarily fend off generic competitors by filing additional patents for a particular drug.

Bristol-Myers can still file suit against a generic drug company for patent infringement under the settlement.

"Bristol's illegal conduct protected nearly $2 billion in yearly sales from the three monopolies," FTC Chairman Timothy Muris told a news conference, "forcing cancer patients and others to overpay by hundreds of millions of dollars for important and often life-saving medications."

The five-member FTC voted unanimously to accept the settlement, which will be subject to 30 days public comment.

The company said in a statement the restrictions should not significantly impact protection of its intellectual property, nor adversely impact its financial position.

"The company has agreed to these proposed terms in order to achieve a resolution of these matters which will allow it to continue its focus on discovering and developing quality medicines," Bristol-Myers said.

Bristol-Myers in January announced it would pay $670 million to resolve similar antitrust charges regarding BuSpar and Taxol, filed by a group of state attorneys general, as well as several generic drugmakers and pharmacy chains.

The states' BuSpar lawsuit, filed in December 2001, was sparked by the company's 11th-hour attempt to extend the patent that was due to expire in November 2000 by seeking a further patent on the drug's metabolite, or the way the body breaks down the drug.

The states' Taxol suit was filed in June 2002.