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U.S. justice requests generics respond in Copaxone litigation

WASHINGTON, April 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday asked generic drug manufacturers to respond to a request from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd seeking to prevent a lower court ruling from taking effect while the high court considers an appeal in a patent fight over Teva's top-selling multiple sclerosis drug, Copaxone.

The procedural move, which was expected, gives the two teams developing cheaper forms of Copaxone until 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, April 14, to respond.

Teva shares closed down 5.5 percent in Tel Aviv, but were off 54 cents, or about 1 percent, for shares trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

On March 31, the high court agreed to hear Teva's appeal of a July 2013 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in favor of the two groups of generic companies: Novartis AG's Sandoz Inc and Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc, and Mylan Inc and Natco Pharma Ltd.

The outcome of the legal fight could determine how soon the generic versions enter the market.

The appeals court had upheld some of the nine patents involved in the drug, or portions of them, but declared several invalid, meaning patent protections were set to expire in May 2014 instead of September 2015.

The Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments in the Teva case until its 2014 term begins in October. A ruling could come as late as June 2015.

After the generic companies file their response, the chief justice will decide whether to grant the stay. He could also refer the matter to the court as a whole.

The case is Teva v. Sandoz, U.S. Supreme Court, 13-854.

(Additional reporting by Bill Berkrot in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Dan Grebler)