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David against Goliath?

Phoenix Scientific Innovations (PSI), a small Tournai company specialising in plant pharmaceuticals, is in open conflict with the multinational BASF. The latter is accusing it of copying certain of its herbicides for sugar beet. The giant has had the disputed stocks of the Tournai company placed under judicial seal. A copy or not a copy? The border is being manned and held. Stéphane Delautre-Drouillon, PSI's managing director, says he is unaware of the arguments put forward by BASF to provide grounds for the distraining judge of the Mons court. Piracy? "I do not feel I have the soul of a pirate, rather the soul of a corsair," he replies. "We manufacture generic products from patents which have entered the public domain; this enables us to sell high-quality products at low prices; we bring savings of up to 50% to the user, while at the same time making a profit ourselves; and so we are annoying for the multinationals. Several multinationals have eliminated or bought out independent firms, or they have set up companies which market generics. They tolerate these companies only to the extent that they control them, in order to be able to fix the price of products to suit themselves. Independents like us are their pet hate, even though my little group has a turnover of only 200 million with 20 people. The farmers who use the product know that it is effective. Clearly, they are asking themselves questions: why such a price difference between two specialist products if the results are identical?"

To the question of research funding, the head of PSI replies, "Yes, I agree, patents were created to allow companies to write off the costs of their enormous investments, but a 20-year patent is more than sufficient to write off research costs."

While he is waiting, Stéphane Delautre-Drouillon fears for his companies' future. "This attack by BASF is not innocuous. It coincides with our products' period of use: 80% of turnover is attained between mid-March and mid-June." Despite our request, at the time of going to press, BASF had still not made any comment on its decision.

---TRENDS TENDANCES 1997 n° 13--