L’Oréal sued by Californian start up over patent infringement claims

Considering the value of the patent in question and the risk of adverse publicity against L’Oréal if the action is successful, the hair care giant must now question: was it ‘worth it?’

News has broken that Santa-Barbara based start-up, Olaplex LLC, has brought legal action against L’Oréal USA for patent infringement and false advertising over Olaplex’s product, Olaplex Bond Multiplier No 1.

The product, used by such high profile names as Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence, claims to be the market leader and the ‘first successful and effective product in the hair bond building market’. Launched in June 2014, the product allows users to lighten hair by bleaching it while still maintaining a healthy and undamaged appearance. Olaplex obtained patents for the use of the key chemical ingredient; bisaminopropyl diglycol dimaleate.

The product turned out to be hugely successful for Olapex, receiving more than 20,000 orders in its first month and approximately $14m of sales in the first six months.

L’Oréal indicated their interest in the product by first trying to poach several key employees, the brains behind the product. In 2015, they attempted to acquire Olaplex, and in the process, obtained confidential information relating to the technology, chemistry and strategy of the product. The deal fell through, but L’Oréal proceeded to create and market three products that infringe the related patent.

Olaplex argue that:
• L’Oréal ‘copied the revolutionary three step Olaplex system (which includes the patented technology at issue) to protect hair during professional bleaching treatments’
• ‘the marketing imagery produced by L’Oreal bears a strong resemblance to the marketing material created by Olaplex’.

In response, L’Oréal have come out fighting and shown their intention to contest the claim. A spokesperson confirmed L’Oréal ‘strongly oppose the merit of these claims and the validity of the patent’ and that they will ‘defend this positon vigorously’.

It remains to be seen whether Olaplex’s claim, or L’Oréal’s counter claim on the validity of Olaplex’s patent, will success, but this dispute certainly illustrates the value of inventions and confidential information and the importance of confidentiality clauses, especially during proposed company takeovers.