Oprah Winfrey Files Suit Against Dietary Supplement Firms

Oprah Winfrey Files Suit Against Dietary Supplement Firms
by Mike Hughlett

Alleging Internet marketers are using her name without permission, Oprah Winfrey–through her corporate vehicle, Harpo Inc.–on Wednesday filed a federal trademark infringement suit against 40 peddlers of dietary supplements.

And the talk show star–or at least her people–aided an investigation by Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan that led to three lawsuits against makers and marketers of dietary supplements made from acai berries.

Winfrey’s show features segments about foods or products that can lead to better health, and they often include appearances by Dr. Mehmet Oz. Last year, Oz praised the anti-aging properties of the acai berry.

Not long after, Internet marketers began to sell acai products with implications that they had been endorsed by Winfrey or Oz, said Marc Rachman, an attorney for Harpo. But neither has ever sponsored such a product, he said.

The same phenomenon has occurred involving the health benefits of other substances aside from acai berries. “The subject is discussed on the show, then the scams start. It’s brazen,” Rachman said. But acai berries have been a particular magnet for alleged misdeeds.

Winfrey’s Web site has fielded more than 2,000 complaints related to acai-berry-related products, Rachman said.

Some involve viewers who mistakenly believed that a product was actually endorsed by Oz or Winfrey; others are from consumers who felt they’d been defrauded, Rachman said.

Many of those consumer fraud complaints were then provided by Harpo to the Illinois attorney general. Madigan filed suit against Advanced Wellness Research and its successor Netalab, alleging that they offer a “free trial” of their dietary supplements, only to hook unaware consumers into an agreement to buy monthly supplies of the product.

Netalab and Advanced Wellness, which Madigan says are based in Florida and operate a fulfillment center in suburban Wood Dale, could not be reached for comment. Madigan filed a similar suit against another acai berry dietary supplement supplier, Crush LLC, and its owner, TMP Nevada, both of which are based in Utah. Neither could be reached for comment.

Madigan’s third suit was against Amirouche & Norton and Larby Amirouche, alleging that those Internet marketers misled consumers with false advertising and false endorsements about dietary supplements. Neither could be reached from comment.