Pfizer levels playing field with counterfeiters

In its no-nonsense battle against drug counterfeiters, many of whom are partial to Viagra, Pfizer is fighting revenue-denting fire with fire. It's using civil suits to go after its criminal tormentors, gaining both the means for direct involvement in solving cases and a respectable return on its fakes-fighting investment.

That's in addition to protecting consumers from substandard knockoffs and protecting its brand image. Pfizer estimates the count of counterfeits that it has kept out of the drug supply chain at 58 million, with a value approaching $1 billion, since 2004.

The drug giant's $3.3 million in investigations and legal fees since 2007 has yielded about $5.1 million in damage awards, reports Bloomberg. And there's another $5.3 million pending in ongoing cases.

The news outlet provides an account of high-rolling counterfeiter Martin Hickman, against whom Pfizer employed both criminal and civil legal weapons. Hickman sold $9 million in fake impotence drugs from 2003 to 2007 via 150 Internet sites, according to Bloomberg. The enriched Hickman took a three-month jail sentence in stride while the sites kept making him money, despite a shut-down order.

Pfizer then tried a civil suit for patent infringement. The civil route allows the manufacturer, which has hired former customs officials, FBI agents, narcotics experts and police, to conduct investigations and raids after getting a judge's OK.

The Pfizer force raided Hickman's home and office, and had his assets frozen. On the same day he was released from the three-month sentence, Pfizer sued Hickman for trademark infringement. He settled out of court for $1.5 million; Pfizer came out $770,000 ahead after figuring the cost of the investigation.

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