WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court said it would decide whether pharmacy companies violate antitrust laws and drive up costs to consumers by agreeing to let brand-name drug makers pay rivals to delay selling lower-priced generics.

In the past decade, several federal courts have upheld such agreements on the grounds that they are settlements of disputes over patents.

The Federal Trade Commission, however, has been challenging the so-called pay-for-delay agreements as illegally stifling competition and preserving monopolies. Last year, the agency said, 28 such deals ended up costing consumers and taxpayers at least $3.5 billion in artificially higher prices.

When drug companies agree not to compete, consumers lose, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said.

The Supreme Court said Friday it would rule early next year.