On 14 May 2013, the French Competition Authority (FCA) imposed a
fine of € 40.6 million on the pharmaceutical company
Sanofi-Aventis, which is a subsidiary of the Sanofi group, for
having abused its dominant position on the market for the active
ingredient clopidogrel by conducting a communication campaign
denigrating the generic medicine produced by its competitors,
thereby limiting their ability to enter the market.
Sanofi-Aventis is the manufacturer of the world's fourth
best-selling medicine, Plavix, which is used to prevent relapses of
serious cardiovascular diseases.
On 2 November 2009, the French manufacturer of generic medicines
Teva Santé lodged a complaint to the FCA against
Sanofi-Aventis for an alleged abuse of a dominant position. In its
complaint, Teva Santé claimed that though the patent
protecting the active ingredient in Plavix in Europe expired in
2008, Sanofi-Aventis filed complementary patents in order to extend
its initial protection, and implemented a commercial strategy to
promote its own generic version of Plavix while denigrating the
generic medicinal products of Teva Santé and other generics
In its decision, the FCA first concluded that the active
ingredient clopidogrel, used to produce the medicine Plavix and its
generics, constituted a distinct product market. The FCA next
concluded that Sanofi-Aventis was dominant on this market due to
its 60% market share, which is five times the market share of its
closest competitor, and also due to the fact that it has been
commercialising Plavix since 1999. The FCA then found that
Sanofi-Aventis had abused its dominant position by implementing a
global and structured communication strategy with the aim of
influencing doctors and pharmacists to stop the generic
substitution process. This strategy consisted, for example, of
convincing doctors to insert the indication
"non-substitutable" in their prescription of Plavix to
patients, and of encouraging pharmacists to substitute Plavix by
Sanofi-Aventis's own generic medicine.
According to the FCA, the communication campaign of
Sanofi-Aventis shed doubts on the efficiency and safety of the
products of generic competitors. In addition, the campaign was
implemented from September 2009 to January 2010, namely right at
the time of the first wave of generic market entry in France. As a
result of this strategy, the generic medicine marketed by
Sanofi-Aventis had an atypically high market share as compared to
other generic medicines, and the effective penetration rate of the
generic medicines (priced 55% cheaper than Plavix) was much lower
than expected. The FCA therefore concluded that Sanofi-Aventis'
practices infringed Article 102 TFEU and imposed a fine of
€ 40.6 million on the company.
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