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Lilly files suit over flea medication sales from Australia

November 11, 2011

Eli Lilly and Co. is suing an Australian veterinary clinic for allegedly reselling its flea medication for dogs without the Indianapolis pharmaceutical firm’s permission.

The company accuses Yanchep Veterinary Clinic of infringing on the Comfortis trademark by marketing the Australian version of the pet medication online to U.S. consumers, violating Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Lilly typically goes to great lengths to protect patents and trademarks to its human medications, particularly its best sellers that have annual sales of more than $1 billion.

But products from Lilly’s animal health unit, Greenfield-based Elanco, had combined sales last year of nearly $1.4 billion—a 15-percent increase from 2009. Specifically, sales of Comfortis leaped 69 percent during the same time, according to the company’s latest annual report.

Lilly said in its Nov. 4 complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis that it has sold millions of dollars woth of Comfortis throughout the United States and has spent millions more to advertise and promote the pet medicine.

The defendant's "sale in the United States of Australian Comfortis is a deliberate, intentional and willful attempt to injure Lilly’s business … and to interfere with Lilly’s business relationships with its veterinarians and clients in the United States,” the company charged in its suit.

Lilly wants the veterinary clinic to pay it all profits from the Comfortis sales, and to pay it $100,000 for each of the five infringing websites the clinic used to sell Comfortis online.

The company also is requesting the clinic send a letter—the content of which must be approved by Lilly—to every U.S. customer who purchased Australian Comfortis, stating that the product must not be used and should be returned to the clinic, at its expense, for a full refund.

Australian Comfortis is not intended to be sold in the United States because it does not follow several FDA guidelines, the suit said.

The foreign flea killer, for instance, does not require a prescription from a veterinarian, does not include a “Not for Human Use” warning and does not contain a complete list of potential reactions and side effects.

Further, Australian Comfortis lists contact information for poison control centers in Australia and New Zealand, provides a different temperature storage range than its U.S. counterpart, and comes in various dosages that are based on a pet’s weight in kilograms rather than pounds.

Lilly does not reveal in its suit how it discovered the potential infringement. But the company sent a letter in March 2010 to the clinic requesting that it quit selling, shipping or distributing Australian Comfortis in the United States.

The following month, an owner responded via e-mail that the clinic had indeed stopped selling and shipping the medication overseas.

Yet, early this year, Lilly said it discovered that the clinic had resumed selling Comfortis in the United States.

“Defendants have not stopped their renewed sale of Australian Comfortis into the U.S. and have, in fact, increased their advertising to U.S. consumers through infringing domain names incorporating the Comfortis mark,” it said.
 
Lilly’s Elanco division launched Comfortis in 2007.

 

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