The Health Department has confirmed that a group of about 40 international pharmaceutical companies would take the government to court over provisions in the Amendment Act, in particular the uncontrolled importation or manufacture of cut- price versions of patented AIDS drugs, bringing to a head a three-year-old intellectual property dispute. The setting of the court date - 5 March 2001 - holds out the possibility that this protracted matter will now be brought to a resolution, department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Collinge said. The department said government would oppose the application, which will be heard in the Pretoria High Court on March 5. London-based GlaxoSmithKline, the world's largest supplier of HIV/AIDS medicines, said the industry was alarmed by implications of the law. Clause 15c gives the health minister total power to dismiss patents without any process whatsoever. That is what the companies object to, company spokesman Phil Thomson told Reuters. The South African dispute is a thorn in the side of the international drugs industry which is eager to prevent the uncontrolled spread of generic AIDS drugs in the developing world that might leak back on to high-price markets in Europe and North America.