The world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, and Microsoft say that they have filed a total of 17 parallel lawsuits against two international pharmacy spam rings selling illegal, supposedly generic, versions of the former’s erectile dysfunction offering, Viagra (sildenafil).

The firms said that the lawsuits came as a result of a seven-month investigation to track down the website operators and the spammers advertising them. Pfizer says it has filed suit against CanadianPharmacy and E-Pharmacy Direct, while Microsoft, which says it has “been waging a multi-pronged attack on the barrage of spam streaming into internet users’ inboxes,” has filed three civil suits against spammers who advertise other online pharmacies known under a variety of names, such as Discount RX, Virtual RX, and

“The collaboration between Pfizer and Microsoft is another wake-up call to those who abuse the Internet for illegal purposes” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel. "Leading businesses are teaming up, pooling resources and sharing investigative information to stop this illegal activity at the source," he added. Aaron Kornblum, an attorney from Microsoft’s internet safety enforcement team, explained: “Microsoft is targeting the defendants for sending hundreds of millions deceptive spam e-mails over its networks, and separately Pfizer is targeting these related defendants in parallel lawsuits for hosting the web sites that misuse their intellectual property... We’re coming after this spam from two directions, which... is an approach not taken before."

Viagra, which generated revenues of almost $1.7 billion dollars in 2004, is often a target for counterfeiters, and is thought to account for up to one quarter of all spam messages. Many of these messages link to illegal websites promoting Viagra, but consumers often end up with an illegal version of the drug, which Pfizer says can pose significant safety risks, as they are often contaminated, outdated, contain potentially dangerous ingredients, or may have no effect at all. Back in 2002, Pfizer seven people and five companies were charged with manufacturing and selling bogus forms of the drug over the internet [[20/05/02f]], and Pfizer upped the ante again last year, when it took legal action against dozens of online pharmacies to seize the domain names of illegal sites selling fake Viagra [[04/08/04c]].