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In early 2003 Jeffrey Kindler, Pfizer Inc.’s vice-chairman and general counsel, had a big problem — and what seemed, on first glance, a baffling solution. Pfizer was facing what Kindler calls “the most significant patent case” in the company’s century-and-a-half history — a challenge to the key patents on its blockbuster cholesterol-busting drug, Lipitor. Estimated to account for about 30 percent of Pfizer’s profits, Lipitor took in $12.2 billion in 2005. And while it was Pfizer that had brought the case — a patent infringement suit to keep India-based Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. from marketing generic Lipitor — it became clear early on that Pfizer would be the one playing defense, with Ranbaxy throwing practically every patent challenge in the book at it.

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