EP’s draft position on Unitary SPC and SPC Regulation revision

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the European Parliament released the draft amendments to the Commission’s proposals aimed to establish a Unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) (links to the document and to the procedure) and to revise the current SPC Regulation (links to the document and the procedure).

On the dedicated pages of EP’s website, you can also find the opinion issued by the Consultative Working Party, according to the Inter-institutional agreement of 28 November 2001 on a more structured use of the recasting technique for legal acts.

A document analysing the potential impact of the Unitary SPC on access to health technologies was also prepared by the Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs Directorate-General for Internal Policies in September 2023.

We summarise the main features of the EP’s draft positions, which were discussed in the 7 November meeting of the JURI Committee.

The revision of the current SPC Regulation

The JURI Committee (Rapporteur Tiemo Wölken) moved to Recital 2 the statement that “medicinal products, in particular those that are the result of long, costly research will not continue to be developed in the Union unless they are covered by favourable rules that provide for sufficient protection to encourage such research”. Recitals 3 and 5 of the original proposal have been deleted, the last one referring to the risk research centres located within the EU might move to countries offering greater protection. The new Recital 2 makes now reference to the difficulty of establishing a direct link between favourable protection rules and EU competitiveness. If, on the one hand, it would be true that the attractiveness of EU markets might benefit from favourable protection, on the other it should be taken into account that European incentives can be granted also to authorised medicines from third countries. Furthermore, UE-based innovative companies can equally benefit from incentives in third countries.

Recital 13, referring to the request of a marketing authorisation for a biological medicinal pro-duct identified by its International Nonproprietary Name (INN), has been amended to indicate that the protection conferred by the SPC should extend to all biosimilars (and not to therapeutically equivalent products, as previously indicated).

A reference to Article [86] of the new Directive (EU) …/… [2023/0132(COD)] to be approved has been introduced in Recital 24, concerning fees that can be charged by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) with reference to centralised application for SPCs for paediatric medicinal products.

The newly inserted Recital 41 a highlights the importance of the timely entry of generics and biosimilars in the EU market, as it may support competition, reduction of prices, sustainability of national healthcare systems and access to affordable medicines.

Several amendments have been proposed for Recital 45. Among the main ones is the reference to the opportunity “to restrict the protection conferred by a supplementary protection certificate in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2019/933 so as to allow making for the exclusive purpose of export to third countries and any related acts in the Union strictly necessary for making or for the actual export itself […]”. The JURI Committee referred to “related acts” as those that “could include the possession, supply, offering to supply, import, using or synthesis of an active ingredient for the purpose of making a medicinal product containing that product, or temporary storage of the product or advertising for the exclusive purpose of export to third-country destinations”.

A phrase was added to Recital 60 on the centralised SPC register to deny the possibility to use the hereby contained information to support patent linkage, regulatory or administrative decisions related to generic or biosimilars, pricing and reimbursement decisions or tender bids. Article 35 – paragraph 11 a further emphasises this concept with reference to public authorities, that should not use such information for refusal, suspension, delay, withdrawal or revocation of marketing authorisations.

The JURI Committee also modified the definition of medicinal product contained in Article 2 – paragraph 1 – point 1 of the proposed Regulation, making reference to “‘any substance or com-bination of substances that fulfils at least one of the following conditions”. These include properties for treating or preventing disease in humans, the possibility to restore, correct or modify physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis.

The new Article 2 – paragraph 1 – point 12 a defines the meaning of the wording ‘economically linked’ with reference to “different holders of two or more basic patents protecting the same product, that one holder, directly or indirectly through one or more intermediaries, controls, is controlled by or is under common control with another holder”.

The JURI Committee also introduced the new Article 8 – paragraph 1 – point d b, stating the need to provide information on any direct public financial support received for research related to the development of the product.

The new Article 26 – paragraph 4 – point c a mentions the inclusion of any evidence in the notice of opposition in support of the opposition itself. According to the amended Article 26 – paragraph 6, the opposition panel should communicate its decision together with the reasoning for it. The same applies to the EUIPO (Article 26 – paragraph 9). The Office should also issue a single decision with reference to several oppositions filed against an examination opinion (Article 26 – paragraph 9 a). Undue delays are repeatedly discouraged.

Article 28 – paragraph 3 – point a was amended to indicate that examiners of patents and SPCs should possess relevant expertise and sufficient experience in the assigned tasks. Article 45 – paragraph 3 adds experts shall be verified for the absence of any conflict of interest.

Amendments of the Unitary SPC proposal

Many of the amendments made by the JURI Committee to the Unitary SPC proposal correspond to the ones seen above for the SPC recast. Among the distinctive ones is the new Recital 14 a, focusing on the “digital by default” principle and consequent electronic applications for unitary and combined applications for supplementary protection certificates. Article 8 – paragraph 4 a adds that the electronic application for a unitary SPC should use the formats made available by EUIPO. Other articles regulate the entire procedure to occur by exchange of electronic documentation.

Amended Recital 22 now makes explicit reference to the possibility to produce and store in the EU “in view of entering the market of any Member State upon expiry of the corresponding certificate (‘EU Day-one entry’) and any acts related thereto”.

The new Article 22 – paragraph 1 – point c b defines cases where the applicant shall waive the SPC rights for markets where the medicinal product has not been launched, i.e., the medicinal product is not placed on all Member States or a Member State market covered by the unitary certificate or combined centralised SPCs.

Comments from Medicines for Europe

The first drafts of the EP position on the SPC and SPC Regulation recast are a step in the right direction for access to medicines across Europe, according to Medicines for Europe. The association particularly appreciated the identification of the necessary safeguards for scrutiny of the SPC application before granting, to prevent invalid (non-innovative) SPCs from delaying access to generic and biosimilar medicines. The undue use of SPC expiry dates in the register to implement unlawful and anti-competitive patent linkage strategies were also deemed positive.