Luxembourg - The European Union's General Court has reduced an EU fine on the French pharmaceutical company Servier for paying off rivals to protect one of its drugs against cheaper generics.
In 2014, the European Commission fined Servier 331 million euros (375 million dollars) and imposed penalties totalling 96.7 million euros on five generic drug manufacturers involved in the scheme.
The case centred on perindopril, a medicine to control blood pressure. It was one of Servier's best-selling products, according to the commission.
Several generics companies were preparing to bring rival products to market when Servier's patent for the drug expired in 2003, but they were blocked when the French company bought a key technology needed to produce the medicine in 2004, the commission said in 2014.
Servier allegedly proceeded to pay the companies "tens of millions of euros" in out-of-court settlements for patent cases. The companies agreed to abstain from competing in return for a share of Servier's profits, the commission argued.
Series of errors
Servier challenged the decision by the commission, the EU's competition watchdog.
The court has found that the commission had "made a series of errors" in assessing the case, notably regarding the basis on which patients would choose perindopril over other medicines.
The Luxembourg-based judges also identified mistakes in the way the commission had calculated the fines. It reduced Servier's overall penalty by 102 million euros and cancelled the fine on one of the generics manufacturers, Slovenian-based Krka.
The ruling can be challenged before the European Court of Justice, the EU's top tribunal.