U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs Merck appeal in hepatitis C patent fight with Gilead

FILE PHOTO: The Merck logo is seen at a gate to the Merck & Co campus in Linden, New Jersey, U.S., July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Merck & Co Inc’s bid to revive a $2.54 billion jury verdict it won against rival drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc for infringing a patent in a dispute over a blockbuster hepatitis C treatment.

The justices declined to take up Merck’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling that overturned the massive damages verdict after finding that Merck’s patent was invalid.

The case concerns a new generation of highly effective drugs for hepatitis C, a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage, able to cure more than 90% of patients, with few side effects.

New Jersey-based Merck’s Idenix Pharmaceuticals Inc in 2013 accused California-based Gilead of infringing its patent on a family of compounds with the same basic chemical structure that is effective against the hepatitis C virus.

After a federal court trial in 2016, a jury sided with Idenix, awarding $2.54 billion for Gilead’s infringement with its drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni. The Washington-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a specialized patent court, invalidated the patent in 2019 after determining that its claims on the family of compounds were overly broad, in violation of U.S. patent law.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Merck said that the Federal Circuit’s ruling undermined biotechnology breakthroughs in which discoveries often begin with a family of compounds that share a particular property.

A group of intellectual property scholars backed Merck in a written brief, telling the justices that the Federal Circuit ruling made it “unreasonably difficult for a pharmaceutical company that comes up with an innovative new class of drugs to protect that class against imitation. That result threatens innovation.”

Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham