Last August, Richdel/Select The Best announced that it had been granted an exclusive license by Nutramax Laboratories to sell a glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate combination product for the animal-health market. It also claimed “this exclusive license was a 'big vote in confidence’ by Nutramax” for Richdel’s programs. In November, Richdel retracted these statements, saying they were “false and misleading” and that Nutramax and Richdel were not associated in any way.
Nutramax, the maker of the joint nutraceutical Cosequin, holds two patents on the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for joint health, a combination of ingredients that is theoretically believed to be best. These patents, which prohibited other manufacturers from combining the ingredients in one jar, were being challenged in court by Twin Labs and others (see September 1998).
Richdel, Inc. President Richard A. Merriner said that, under the terms of the Nutramax Laboratories agreement, he was unable to comment beyond statements already on public record regarding the necessity for the retraction.
“This is a very legally-charged issue,” he said. “I can say that we (Richdel) have an agreement with Nutramax, and we will be allowed to produce and distribute a product containing glucosamine and chondroitin. But the Nutramax patents still stand.”
In the past three years, Nutramax filed infringement suits against several supplement marketers to protect its U.S. patents 5,364,845 and 5,587,363.
Kristen E. Blanchard, director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs for Nutramax Laboratories, pointed to the September 1999 issue of Dietary Supplement Market View, the monthly analysis of the vitamins, minerals, and herbals marketplace, to summarize the company’s current position:
“The company announced recently it has agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit it filed against 19 companies. Nutramax said the claims between the parties related to the patents have been released in exchange for a cash payment to Nutramax. The defendants are authorized to continue selling their products but are not licensed to use the patent numbers.”
The article continues, “Nutramax is moving away from legal efforts to uphold the uniqueness of its products. The company holds patents on 'the synergistic effect of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in a dietary supplement for the replenishment and protection of joint cartilage.’ Nutramax maintains that, to date, all controlled published trials conducted in the U.S. relating to the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have used its proprietary ingredients.”
Pharmaceutical company Twin Labs legal spokesman Joe Conklin said: “We have settled the case in its entirety and are free to sell our products as before. It’s a good settlement for us, and a positive step toward putting this behind us so we can focus on continuing to offer the very best products possible.”
“If these substances weren’t so helpful,” said Merriner, “we would have backed off long ago. But joint nutraceuticals are important to horse owners, and it’s a big enough market that we can work past this. In a year’s time, we’ll all have better research, better documentation, better product, and better value,” Merriner said.
Whether or not the agreement that other particular companies are now authorized to sell glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate combination products will benefit the consumer’s wallet remains to be seen. Joint nutraceutical products remain an effective but expensive treatment option for horses with painful joints.
For further information on joint nutraceuticals, see our articles in November 1997, and May, June and August 1999.