Archive for June, 2009

Jury returns $1.67 billion drug verdict against Abbott (Reuters)

Monday, June 29th, 2009 | Finance News

NEW YORK (Reuters) –
A U.S. federal jury returned a $1.67 billion verdict against Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) in a patent suit brought by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) related to arthritis treatments, the drug companies said on Monday.

An Abbott spokesman said the company would appeal the verdict delivered in Marshall, Texas.

The case involves Humira, Abbott's newer blockbuster drug that blocks tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, and which competes with Johnson & Johnson's older blockbuster medication Remicade.

The company said in a statement it was pleased with the ruling, which showed its patent was "both valid and infringed." Remicade sales were $1.03 billion in Johnson & Johnson's first quarter.

Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel told Reuters: "We're disappointed at this verdict, and we are confident in the merits of our case and that we will prevail on appeal."

Humira is a fully-human antibody, meaning it does not have any mouse components, Stoffel said. Remicade, on the other hand, is partly made from mouse DNA.

"Only when Humira was nearing its approval in 2002 did J&J amend the patent at issue in this litigation to claim it had discovered fully-human antibodies in 1994," Stoffel said.

"J&J acknowledged at trial that it did not start working on a fully human antibody until 1997 -- two years after Abbott discovered Humira and one year after Abbott filed its patent applications for Humira."

A spokeswoman for the Johnson & Johnson unit involved in the case, Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc, would not comment beyond the brief statement.

Schering-Plough Corp (SGP.N) has the overseas rights to Remicade. Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) aims to buy Schering-Plough later this year, and to inherit those rights.

Johnson & Johnson, however, is battling Merck before an arbitrator, claiming it will gain overseas market rights to Remicade if Merck completes its acquisition of Schering-Plough.

Both Merck and Schering-Plough were not immediately available to comment on the implications of the jury's verdict.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson and Jonathan Spicer)

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Japan props up Elpida with $1.7 billion in aid (Reuters)

Monday, June 29th, 2009 | Finance News

TOKYO (Reuters) –
Japan pledged to prop up loss-making chip maker Elpida Memory Inc (6665.T) with up to $1.7 billion in public and private capital and loans, the country's first capital injection in a company since the financial crisis.

The 160 billion yen ($1.7 billion) aid package includes a possible 20 billion yen capital injection from Taiwan Memory Company, which was set up by Taiwan to save its own chip sector and had chosen Elpida as a technology partner.

Elpida and other makers of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips, used mainly in PCs, have tumbled into the red due to falling prices and weak consumer demand, compounded by the global recession.

Elpida, the world's fourth-biggest maker of DRAM chips, becomes the first Japanese company to get aid under a scheme that makes public funds available to businesses hit by the global financial crisis.

"This shows that the government is determined to support the sector, that they are determined not to let Elpida fail," Hajime Kurabayashi, a strategist at Okasan Securities said on Tuesday.

Elpida is Japan's last hope in PC memory chips in an industry dominated by South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and Hynix Semiconductor Inc (000660.KS).

"Elpida is Japan's only DRAM maker, and it has been hit by extremely severe conditions amid the global economic slump, despite its superior technology," Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai told reporters.

Elpida's shares gained 3 percent, having risen more than 60 percent over the past three months, helped by media reports on the government aid. The benchmark Nikkei average (.N225) has added about 20 percent over the same period.

Elpida is scheduled to issue 30 billion yen in preferred securities to the state-owned Development Bank of Japan in August, which will also extend 10 billion yen in loans, Japan's trade ministry said.

Private banks will also provide 100 billion yen in loans, the ministry said.

($1=96.06 Yen)

(Reporting by Mayumi Negishi and Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Anshuman Daga)

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Bank employees protest ‘anti-consumer’ practices (AP)

Monday, June 29th, 2009 | Finance News

WASHINGTON – Risky bank policies that contributed to the financial crisis were as common in neighborhood branches as they were on Wall Street, according to a labor-backed coalition that will propose new reforms Tuesday.

Bank of America Corp. and other large banks encouraged customer service representatives and tellers to burden consumers with debt and enroll them in high-fee programs, alleges a group which includes the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"One of the core parts of the economic collapse is a business model that encourages too much risk or short-term profit over long-term stability," said Stephen Lerner, who runs the financial reform project for the Service Employees International Union, which is coordinating the effort.

Lerner said employees under pressure to sell high-fee products ended up targeting vulnerable populations, including students and the elderly.

Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri could not be reached for comment Monday.

On a conference call Tuesday with the consumer and labor groups, current and former Bank of America employees will argue that banks' reliance on fees and high interest rates contributed to the credit crisis. They will call for reforms that target the consumer end of the banking industry, even as the Obama administration continues to promote its plan for top-level regulatory reform.

Retail banks must change fees and incentives to eliminate "the current sell anything culture," Lerner said. He said employees need whistleblower protection so they can alert regulators to risky bank practices occurring at the retail level.

That policy might have helped Christopher Feener, a 15-year veteran of the credit card industry who worked for MBNA and Bank of America, which absorbed MBNA in 2006. Feener said he and his colleagues observed routine violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and disclosure rules, but could not speak out for fear of reprisal.

Feener lost his job in September shortly after his wife — another former bank employee — discussed participating in an expose on network television.

"Collecting money was always a hard job, but in the last two years it just got crazy," Feener said. He said his team was forced to call borrowers' neighbors, falsely threaten legal action and pressure borrowers to bounce checks or default on other loans in order to meet credit card payments.

Bounced checks allowed the bank to extend collection periods for a month, so they had to report fewer loan losses and could consider more accounts active, he said.

Feener said he sensed the financial crisis as early as 2007, as customers started defaulting on credit cards without making a single payment.

Also on Tuesday's call will be Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who hopes to push the proposed regulations through the House Financial Services Committee.

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