Prozac makers act over Chinese copy

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THERE IS a lot to be depressed about some days in China - as the inventors of the anti- depressant drug Prozac can confirm.

The American drug manufacturer Eli Lilly said yesterday that it will appeal to China's Supreme Court this month in a last attempt to win patent protection on the mainland for its best-selling Prozac.

Eli Lilly imports and sells about US$9m a year of Prozac in China.

Its problem is that at least two Chinese pharmaceutical companies are also manufacturing chemically identical copies of Prozac, after judgments by Chinese courts made it legal for anyone to produce the drug and sell it at a lower price.

Complaints by Western companies about intellectual property rights (IPR) infringements in China are nothing new.

IPR disputes have brought the US and China near to tit-for-tat trade wars several times in recent years, and the subject will be on President Clinton's agenda in trade negotiations during his summit visit.

Normally, the problem is straightforward pirating of copyright goods by Chinese companies, especially computer software, music CDs, CD-Roms, and more recently VCDs.

In these cases, Chinese factories are breaking the law by churning out pirated products which are protected under Chinese laws, but the laws are not implemented.

The US software industry this month said piracy-related losses in China more than doubled last year to US$1.4 billion, and estimated that 96 per cent of the computer software in use on the mainland was pirated.

The Prozac case is different, because it involves a product which Chinese courts have decided to allow mainland companies to copy, even though international patent agreements signed by Peking would seem to outlaw this.