Pharmaceuticals Giants Suffer 350-Year-Old Separation Pains

pillsGroups of companies can be like families and, just as with humans, separation can be traumatic for parents and children alike. In one case, two large pharmaceuticals businesses shared roots dating back almost 350 years but ended up in dispute over their common use of their founder’s name.

Both businesses, whilst entirely separate since the 1920s, had their origins in an apothecary’s shop in Germany in 1668. They had each prospered mightily since then and, despite any number of changes in corporate structure, they both used the same name in their titles. In broad terms, business A’s sphere of influence was in America whereas business B operated almost everywhere else in the world.

Their element of shared identity had given rise to difficulties over the years in respect of potential customer confusion, branding and intellectual property rights. Those problems had in the past been resolved through compromise but such arrangements had been put under increasing pressure by the onset of the Internet age and the true globalisation of the pharmaceuticals industry.

Various disputes concerning use of websites and other matters eventually came before the High Court for determination. The Court made detailed findings and granted an injunction against business A, holding it to the terms of a co-existence agreement reached in 1970. The Court’s decision in effect created a template by which both businesses could retain their historic identities whilst also ensuring that neither of them trespassed on the other’s rights.