The basic principle of free movement of goods within the EU and EEA creates an opportunity for parallel trade in medicines. Once a product is legally placed on the market in a country within the EEA by the owner of its trademark rights the owner cannot rely on these rights to hinder the further sale of the product within the EEA.
Parallel trade is likely to exist wherever there are price differentials. The pricing of medicines and social health insurance reimbursement schemes are the responsibility of the countries of the EEA. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.
Parallel trade of medicines in the EEA is 100% legal. A core objective of the EU's founding Treaty of Rome is the creation of a single, internal market through which goods, services, people and capital can freely pass. It says that:
"Quantitative restrictions on imports and all measures having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between member states."
A direct consequence of free movement is the classic Cassis de Dijon doctrine of the European Court of Justice, which says that a product lawfully placed on the market of one member state must be allowed to circulate freely throughout the EU. This principle has been extended to also cover Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.