The European Commission has begun what it calls "the second monitoring exercise" following its 2009 sector inquiry into patent settlement pacts between originator and generic companies.

The Commission says it has addressed information requests to "selected pharmaceutical companies", without naming names, asking them to submit copies of such agreements concluded in the European Economic Area in 2010. This move follows the aforementioned inquiry that "pointed to significant risks for European consumers stemming from certain types of patent settlements".

The companies involved have been asked to submit a copy of all patent settlement agreements concluded last year. "In order to limit the administrative burden on companies," they were asked for "limited additional background information".

Joaquin Almunia, Commission vice president in charge of competition policy, noted that "the outcome of our first monitoring exercise showed that potentially problematic agreements had decreased significantly" since the inquiry". He added that the 2011 probe is important "to assess whether this positive trend is confirmed" and to identify questionable settlements.

The Commission will publish a report in the first half of 2011 and if a specific settlement raises additional questions, "a more targeted request for information could follow."