The patent wars in the high tech space get a lot of coverage, between lawsuits from so-called patent trolls to dustups between tech giants, there is rarely a shortage of news. But patent litigation in the pharma space is often a bit quieter, if only because it so often revolves around large drug makers suing companies that produce generic versions of certain medication.

But now, a battle over hepatitis C treatments has roped in several large drug manufacturers. The patent litigation stems from Gilead Sciences, which developed a hepatitis C treatment called Sovaldi. Now the company is going after three of its rivals: Merck, AbbVie and Roche. 

Sales of Sovaldi have been lucrative for Gilead, which racked up a reported $5 billion from the drug in just the first half of 2014. It’s also planning a new form of the treatment, pending FDA approval, that would be more convenient for patients and therefore potentially increase revenue. 



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So it’s no wonder Gilead is trying to protect its investment and is going after its competition. AbbVie has been proactive, getting patents to cover combinations of drugs – including compounds developed by Gilead, and AbbVie is poised to sue Gilead if it seeks to sell a combination hepatitis treatment.

Gilead got its hands on the drug through its acquisition of Pharmasset, which developed it over the past decade. This is also the root of Roche’s claims on the drug. Roche believes it has rights to the drug via its preexisting relationship with Pharmasset and has filed an infringement suit against Gilead.

Finally, Gilead filed suit against Merck after that company sought a 10 percent royalty on al Sovaldi sales, claiming that Sovaldi infringes on its patents that cover certain compounds.

If it all sounds like a mess, that’s because it is. But in the world of big pharma, where billions of dollars are poured into research and development, companies work to protect and monetize the assets they do have, and when a product is as potentially lucrative as these hepatitis treatments, well, you can expect more of the same for the foreseeable future.