Once a company’s initial patent period for a prescription drug expires, the medication enters the public arena in the form of generic formulations. Alternative companies are permitted to begin manufacturing their own versions of the medicine, under their own names and their own marketing programs. However, few people understand that this process is not as simple or clear cut as that explanation makes it seem. In reality, it’s a period of arguments, suits, counter-suits and accusations from one group to another as the parent company tries to protect its interests for as long as possible and as new companies try to get themselves in a position to benefit from the circumstance.

The situation with Effexor is a classic example of the kind of impatient jockeying that occurs when a popular drug goes generic. Effexor’s parent company, Wyeth, has sued the Indian manufacturing firm Dr. Reddy’s. Wyeth is arguing that Reddy’s has infringed on its patent and should be stopped from marketing the Reddy generic version of Effexor. In the meantime, Israel-based Teva Inc. has begun selling its generic version of Effexor XR as of July 1st.

While this might sound on the surface like business as usual, it does raise some questions that patients deserve to have answered. First, what is the benefit to the patient in all these suits? There are still ongoing lawsuits pertaining to SSRIs and SNRIs like Effexor, focusing on their propensity to cause suicidal ideation and their increasingly evident link to the formation of infant birth defects. Secondly, notice that the suit versus Reddy’s is not a matter of questioning the company’s ability to control the quality of the drug, but a patent violation. This makes it rather obvious that Wyeth is not arguing out of concern for patient welfare so much as attempting to keep their fingers firmly around their drug’s $4-billion-a-year market share.