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Late last year, Robert Armitage was promoted to a post very few patent lawyers ever achieve — general counsel to a Fortune 500 company. Armitage had been Eli Lilly & Co.’s vice president and general patent counsel until general counsel Rebecca Kendall retired last November. Armitage’s promotion “is something that happens once in a lifetime,” says Howard Wegner, a partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Milwaukee’s Foley & Lardner. “It confirms his leadership in the field.” Besides running his in-house legal staff, Armitage expects to spend a lot of time on the stump as a public advocate for the pharmaceutical industry. At the top of his agenda: patents, generic drugs and developing nations’ access to drugs. Armitage is well suited for the role of defending the drug industry. “I am almost totally perplexed by the failure of people to realize that what the pharmaceutical industry basically has done is to provide the opportunity so that people can be treated anywhere in the world with extremely useful medicines,” he says. Public-policy advocacy is nothing new for Armitage, who headed the American Intellectual Property Law Association in 1995, and is a member of the board of directors of Intellectual Property Owners and chair-elect of the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations. In the early days of the Clinton administration, the outspoken lawyer was even short-listed for the post of patent commissioner. Armitage says he “got as far as a fireside chat with Ron Brown,” who was Secretary of Commerce until his death in a plane crash in 1996. Ultimately, the job went to Bruce Lehman — and Armitage remained in the private sector. More than 100 in-house lawyers report to Armitage. Half of them are patent specialists, which is fairly typical for a pharmaceutical company. “In the last two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has become almost a pure IP industry,” says Armitage. “And patent litigation is life and death.” Lilly is involved in patent litigation against two generic manufacturers. In September 2002, the company went to federal court in Indianapolis to block Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc. from selling a generic version of Zyprexa, an antischizophrenia drug. Lilly is using Washington, D.C.’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garret & Dunner. One month later, Lilly sued Barr Laboratories Inc. The suit, filed in Indianapolis, charges that Barr’s proposed generic version of Evista, a drug that prevents bone loss, would infringe four Lilly patents. Chicago’s McDonnell, Boehnen, Hulbert & Berghoff is representing Lilly. The original Evista patent expires in April, but Lilly — like many other drug makers — has filed add-on patents in a bid to extend the life of its monopoly. Lilly is on the other end of that tactic in a suit with Pfizer Inc. filed in late 2002. Pfizer claims that Lilly’s anti-impotence drug Cialis infringes a patent for the use of the chemical compound in Viagra. The patent is not the original Viagra patent. Cupertino, Calif.’s Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder represents Lilly in that matter. Armitage would not comment on ongoing litigation. Armitage himself has never been a patent litigator. In fact, he became a lawyer somewhat by accident. He received a degree in physics and mathematics from Albion College in 1970 and entered a Ph.D. program in physics at the University of Michigan. He dropped the program in his second year, though. “Science funding was down, and there were dim prospects for [work] as a physicist,” he says. Armitage switched to Michigan’s law school and graduated in two years. His first job was at Upjohn Co. as a patent counsel where he remained until 1993 when he joined the Washington, D.C., office of Vinson & Elkins. Armitage moved to Lilly in 1999. Armitage would like to see patent litigation reforms, including limits on discovery. He says that patent litigation, particularly when it’s protracted, “costs us millions and millions of dollars, just going through the discovery process alone.” Ultimately, he says, the consumer pays the price. How’s that for a sound bite?

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