By Bill Berkrot
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pfizer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. said on Thursday
they filed parallel lawsuits against Web site operators and spam
advertisers that sell illegal versions of Pfizer's Viagra.
The companies said the lawsuits follow a seven-month investigation to
discover the identity of two Web site operators together with those
advertising them via spam e-mails.
Pfizer has filed suit against CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct,
while Microsoft has filed civil actions against the spam advertisers
for the Web sites. Microsoft has also filed three suits against spam
advertisers who advertise unauthorized or counterfeit versions of
Viagra on other online pharmacies under such names as Discount RX,
Virtual RX, and EzyDrugStore.com.
With Microsoft going after illegal spammers and Pfizer taking on
online sellers of illegal medicines, they said they are "targeting the
entire supply chain."
Pfizer general counsel Beth Levine said there was no accurate way of
calculating how much the company is losing in Viagra sales as a result
of illegal Internet sales of the best-selling erectile dysfunction
"One individual who pleaded guilty in an earlier suit said he had
taken in several million dollars in sales," she said.
The pharmacy spam rings have allegedly sent hundreds of millions of
e-mail messages to Microsoft's MSN Hotmail customers within the past
year alone, Microsoft said.
The identities of the individuals controlling the sites are unknown,
the companies said.
But Aaron Kornblum, Microsoft's Internet safety enforcement attorney,
said now that the lawsuits are active they have subpoena power to go
to Web hosting services, payment processors and shipping distributors
to try to track down the culprits.
"All of these are perhaps legitimate businesses being used by spammers
to set up illegal businesses," Kornblum said.
He said one illegal Web site was registered under an actual New York
resident's name that had been obtained via identity theft.
The companies said orders taken by cndpharmacy.com were being filled
and shipped from India with no real Canadian connection.
Pfizer has gone after illegal sales of unauthorized or counterfeit
versions of their products before, especially Viagra and
chloresrtol-lowering Lipitor, the world's best selling prescription
In August, Pfizer took legal action against 30 Web sites claiming to
sell Viagra or generic versions of the drug, even though there is no
legal generic Viagra. The company said 29 of those site are no longer
"We are going to continue to come after them," Levine promised.
"We are seeing successes," Kornblum added. "We are taking spammers off
line, helping to put them in jail."
Microsoft said it was continuing to come up with ways to try to
prevent people from being inundated with illegal spam and, in
particular, offers selling illegal prescription drugs.
Kornblum said Microsoft filters block 3.2 billion spam messages every
day. It has also set up more than 100,000 so-called trap accounts that
receive hundreds of millions of spam e-mails, he said. (Additional
reporting by Toni Clarke)
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