Colman Ragan – Teva Pharmaceuticals
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Julianna Roche & Matt Welch
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
It’s the legal equivalent of taking the field at Yankee Stadium or the stage at the Met, and Colman Ragan had a front row seat. Though not the lead counsel for Teva Pharmaceuticals, he helped draft the argument given before the U.S. Supreme Court in Helsinn Healthcare S.A. v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.
“I was walking into hallowed ground,” recalls Ragan. “You get chills in your spine walking into the gallery and sitting in front of nine of the best legal minds in the country and seeing how well-prepared they are. It’s some kind of ethereal feeling that makes you feel like you’re floating.”
When reminiscing with Vanguard in February about that day in December 2018, Ragan was working in a more modest setting—the space below his basement stairs that he converted to a home office during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From that modest space, he adds that the Supreme Court justices unanimously decided in Teva’s favor. All the while, Ragan was focused on ensuring the next opportunity to be part of history could be enjoyed by someone from a more diverse background.
“We need to be certain we encourage and hire underrepresented groups in positions of leadership,” he says.
Advocating for opportunity
Founded in Jerusalem in 1901, Teva has what Ragan calls a blended approach to pharmaceuticals, meaning it develops its own medicines while also making generic and biosimilar versions.
As vice president and general counsel for North America IP Litigation, he and his team protect Teva’s IP from infringement and defend the company when another company asserts Teva is infringing on IP. Often, IP disputes can be resolved before they reach a courtroom, he adds.
“Each litigator can understand the differing perspectives and have the versatility to handle cases from obtaining, to defending, to invalidating patents,” Ragan explains, about his team of six attorneys and two paralegals.
In 2021, the Mansfield Rule is also guiding his work at Teva.
This certification, created by the San Francisco-based Diversity Lab in 2017, is named in honor of Arabella Mansfield, the first woman admitted to the bar in the U.S. It’s also inspired by the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” designed to encourage diversity in the hiring of head coaches.
With the Mansfield Rule, participating companies and law firms ensure at least 30 percent of the candidate pool for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions and lateral positions is made up of women, attorneys of color, those who are LGBTQ or have disabilities.
Legal departments at American Express, Ford Motor Co. and Target were among those that embraced the Mansfield Rule as it was introduced, and almost 120 law firms have been certified as compliant, according to the Diversity Lab website.
With the strong support of Senior Vice President and Chief IP Counsel Staci Julie and the rest of the legal department, Teva has been working to implement the Mansfield rule and foster diversity and inclusion, not just at Teva, but among its outside counsel.
As the company launches its efforts, Ragan says the legal team has developed a tracking system for compliance that’s part of the certification process.
“We’re just beginning to roll this out,” he explains. “Our department is making a big push within, and with outside counsel, to foster more diversity. We have to look at ourselves and ask the question—does our department look like America?”
As president of the New York Intellectual Property Law Association, Ragan also advocates for diversity and inclusion there, noting NYIPLA’s commitment includes scholarship opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds, as well as fostering diversity among its leadership.
In a COVID-19 way, it does. Ragan’s found an office under the basement stairs and says his team has also had to litigate from home—in some instances, while making sure their children are learning remotely, too.
That does not make them much different than other professionals during the pandemic, and Ragan adds the pace of litigation did not slow in 2020.
“We learn as we go because the present reality changes every day and we have to stay on our toes,” he notes.
But because litigation is traditionally done face-to-face, there are nuances that Zoom, Teams or any other digital platform can’t pick up.
“I’ve been deposed during the pandemic,” Ragan says. “It’s harder to read people on a screen than across a table—you lose that. In the courtroom you can see the judge or jury. Remotely, it’s harder presenting an oral argument and seeing if a judge is buying it.”
By contrast, reading the reactions of nine Supreme Court justices hearing the argument he helped draft for Teva was a high point of the experience, he adds.
The argument had to be brief—each side gets 30 minutes to present its case based on prior court decisions and on the evidence developed earlier in the case.
Teva’s argument didn’t focus on whether it had infringed Helsinn’s patents. It was centered on whether 2011 changes to patent law in the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act effectively eliminated the doctrine known as “on-sale bar.” The doctrine establishes that something that’s been selling for more than a year can’t be patented. Teva prevailed in a 9-0 decision.
“First, you have to make sure you have a legal hook the justices want to weigh in on,” he says. “At that point, it’s a different case, because you’re worried about attacking or defending the judicial record below not presenting new evidence. I admit, I did get an adrenaline surge when I thought we might win.”
From lab to legal
Ragan says you can trace his love for patent law to a time when he worked in Pfizer’s pharmaceutical labs. The Ohio native, who earned his bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and physics from Miami University in 1996, was developing a compound bound for a patent when he developed a chemical sensitivity.
Unable to work in the lab, he helped file patents on his laboratory work at Pfizer and then enrolled at the Benjamin J. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in 2000 and joined Kenyon & Kenyon after earning his JD in 2003.
In 2007, he joined the firm of Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher, then went in-house as an IP counsel for Actavis in February 2013. When Actavis was acquired by Teva in 2016, he also made the shift, becoming an associate general counsel for U.S. IP Litigation.
In November 2017, Ragan was named interim head of U.S. Generics IP division, and was promoted to his present position in February 2018.
“Teva’s goal is to get innovative new medicines, as well as affordable drugs, to those in need,” Ragan points out. “Setting the tone in terms of department values is so important. Our legal department drives value by promoting autonomy, cultivating openness, encouraging colleagues to push back and provide opinions, and fostering diversity.”
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