(CN) – Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz say Internet companies used their name without permission to sell dietary supplements containing acai berries. Winfrey’s company, Harpo Inc., also assisted the Illinois Attorney General in filing three lawsuits to stop makers of the product.
Oprah and her oft-sidekick, Dr. Oz, filed suit against about 40 distributors of acai berry-containing products, accusing them of “capitalizing on plaintiffs’ valuable reputation and intellectual property rights to lure consumers into ordering their infringing products on the false premise that they have been tested or recommended by Ms. Winfrey and/or Dr. Oz when they are not.”
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of Oz’ company, Zo Co I LLC, and Winfrey’s companies, OW Licensing and Harpo Inc., targets about 40 businesses, including FWM Laboratories, CPX Interaxtive, Netalab, Gillmap Ltd., Natures perfection and Minired UAB, in New York Federal Court.
Oz praised the anti-aging properties of the acai berry last year during one of Winfrey’s many segments on leading healthier lives. He recently got his own spin-off show.
Soon after the acai berry segment ran, defendants began illegally using Winfrey’s and Oz’s names and likeness to sell their products, the complaint states.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office and Harpo Inc. coordinated an investigation of consumer complaints – many forwarded to Madigan’s office by Harpo Inc. – that alleged deceptive practices by the companies.
The attorney general filed two separate lawsuits against three suppliers, Advanced Wellness Research and its successor Netalab, Crush LLC and its owner, TMP Nevada Inc., and Amirouche & Norton.
“For thousands of dieters, the quest for a miracle product has become a nightmare,” Madigan said. “Far too often, consumers end up losing their money – not weight – in these deals.”
The state’s complaints accuse suppliers of using a scam to offer consumers a “free trial” to entice them to sign up by providing a credit card number for shipping. Consumers are often unaware that they have agreed to buy a monthly supply of acai berry supplements for up to $89 a month unless they cancel their orders, according to the complaints.
Madigan seeks to stop the companies from selling dietary supplements, and $50,000 in civil penalties.
Plaintiffs are represented by Marc Rachman of Davis Gilbert.