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California

$143-Million Award Against Pfizer Tossed Out

Courts: Judge says lawyers for British firm acted improperly in a fight over use of Trovan name.

May 23, 2000|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Accusing a British company's lawyers of misconduct, a federal judge Monday dismissed the largest trademark infringement award in the U.S., a $143-million judgment against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for marketing an antibiotic drug under the brand name of Trovan.

Trovan Ltd., a British company that makes implantable computer chips for tracking lost pets, won the award in a jury trial last year.

But U.S. District Judge Lourdes G. Baird declared a mistrial Monday, contending that Trovan Ltd.'s lawyers fabricated evidence, encouraged witnesses to lie under oath and disregarded her rulings during the trial. William E. Levin, the Laguna Beach attorney who represented Trovan, said he was "quite shocked and disappointed" by Baird's ruling.

He denied committing any improprieties and said the judge's grounds for dismissing the award "are totally against the law and the evidence in the case and contrary to her own previous rulings."

Pfizer's lawyer, Pierce O'Donnell, praised the judge's decision. "Pfizer did not get a fair trial," he said.

Baird is expected to issue a lengthy written opinion on her decision in the next several days.

Levin said he would confer with his clients, Trovan Ltd., and their U.S. license holder, Electronic Identification Devices Ltd. of Santa Barbara, about a possible appeal.

Pfizer began marketing Trovan in 1998 as an effective agent against bacteria strains that do not respond to other drugs. Last June, the Food and Drug Administration instructed doctors to use Trovan only on people with life-threatening illnesses after the deaths of six patients who took the drug.

In 1991, Trovan Ltd., based on the Isle of Man, registered the Trovan name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

During the Los Angeles federal court trial, Joseph Masin, president of the Santa Barbara firm, testified that he and his colleagues had warned Pfizer's legal department not to use the Trovan name five months before the drug was put on the market.

After the drug began receiving negative publicity, Masin said, he began receiving calls from anxious pet owners who thought the devices implanted in their animals contained Pfizer's antibiotic.

Pfizer maintained that consumers were not confused, since Trovan microchips targeted animals while the antibiotic was for human consumption.

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