Friday, November 26, 2021

Strict PM(NOC) Time Limits are Still Strict

Merck Canada Inc v Canada (Health) 2021 FCA 224 Gauthier JA: Locke, Leblanc JJA affg Merck Canada Inc v Canada (Health) 2021 FC 345 Fothergill J

             2,830,806 / pembrolizumab / KEYTRUDA

Subsection 4(6) of the PM(NOC) Regulations permits a person to submit a patent for listing on the patent register within 30 days after issuance. Merck submitted the 806 patent for listing a day or two late [14]. Merck argued that the Minister had the discretion to extend the time limit, and, as a secondary argument, that the Covid-19 Time Limits Act applied to extend the deadline. The Minister rejected both these arguments and refused to list the 806 patent. Merck sought judicial review, arguing that the Minister’s decision was based on an unreasonable interpretation of the relevant provisions. Fothergill J at first instance found that the Minister’s determination on both these points was reasonable, as noted here. On appeal, Gauthier JA for FCA affirmed that Minister’s decision was reasonable.

The main substantive point emerging from the FCA decision is that the time limits under the PM(NOC) Regulations have always been strict, and nothing in the 2017 amendments changed this: [35]–[38]. The time limits are still strict, and the Federal Court is not going to be sympathetic to attempts to get around those limits, either now or in the future: see eg [25], [35]. It seems clear that this Minister’s decision would have been upheld even on a correctness standard.

Merck also argued that the Court has a general power to grant equitable relief which should be exercised in this case. Gauthier JA rejected this argument on the basis that it had been raised for the first time on appeal, and it was not appropriate in the circumstances for the FCA to consider it [63]–[66]. While Gauthier JA therefore did not expressly consider the merits of the argument, my sense is that she was distinctly unsympathetic (see [60]–[61]), and I would not hold out much hope for this argument even if it is properly raised in a subsequent case.

On an administrative law point, Gauthier JA noted that it is not unreasonable for the Minister to fail to consider cases that were not cited to it by Merck: “the decision maker is not required to embark on an analysis that would cover any possible line of reasoning (Vavilov at paras. 120 and 127). Regard must be given to the submissions made to the Minister” [22] and similarly [42].

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