You'd think that a $1.2 billion award would make you happy. But the lawsuit that triggered it is just another fact of life for investors in pharma. Let's take a closer look at this particular example.

Earlier this week a court awarded Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) more than $1.2 billion, to be split between Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) -- $703 million -- and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) -- $521 million. This is from a lawsuit over selling stents that infringed on a J&J-owned patent. However, investors shouldn't get too excited or throw a tantrum -- depending on which company you're rooting for. The lawsuit has been going on for more than a decade.

What makes it a bit ironic is that the stents in question haven't been sold for several years.

In 2000, the first ruling in the case went against Boston Scientific and Medtronic, but that was set aside a couple of years later. J&J won the retrial in 2005, but it still hasn't been paid because the two competitors appealed.

Boston Scientific was originally required to pay just $324 million and Medtronic originally owed just $271 million. But those amounts have ballooned as interest has accumulated.

The fight still doesn't seem to be over, either. Boston Scientific, for one, is planning to appeal this decision, so it may be awhile before Johnson & Johnson finally gets its money. Interest will continue to accumulate, but in this market that might be the safest result for the cash.

Of course, Boston Scientific is probably playing the delaying game for all it's worth. It is still loaded with billions in debt from its acquisition of Guidant and has lost money over the past 12 months. Having to pay out the settlement certainly won't help matters.

For investors, there are a couple of lessons here. First, perhaps more than any other, the health-care sector has a lot of lawsuits. Investing in this space involves understanding the risks involved. Examples include:

  • Wyeth's (NYSE:WYE) heartburn medication Protonix receiving generic competition from Teva Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:TEVA) -- this is another patent battle.
  • Merck (NYSE:MRK) being sued by customers who took Vioxx -- this can happen when a drug goes wrong.

Second, lawsuits often take a long time to complete, so you as an investor should know the history of the company you're thinking about investing in. Fortunately, the companies are required to lay most of it out in their annual 10-K reports, so it's not that difficult to get caught up.

As for what happens next, I couldn't say. I bet, though, that Johnson & Johnson really doesn't want to wait another decade for its money.

Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor recommendation. To see how dividend-paying stocks can offer both secure income and the opportunity for growth, take a free look at this newsletter with a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.