Monday, January 2, 2017

This L'Oreal suit seems bad for them

Also in this week's C&EN, an article by Marc Reisch on a lawsuit between a startup and L'Oreal: 
Celebrities Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lawrence went blonde using it, and now L’Oreal is charged with stealing it: the formula for Olaplex’s Bond Multiplier, a product that protects hair during bleaching and color treatments. 
The bad blood emerged late last year in a suit filed in federal court for the Central District of California. In it, start-up firm Olaplex charged L’Oreal with violating a patent covering hair protection ingredients discovered by a University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), chemist and a former student.... 
...According to the Olaplex suit, polymer chemists Craig J. Hawker and Eric Pressly developed the chemistry for Bond Multiplier in Pressly’s garage. Hawker is a ­professor in UCSB’s department of chemistry and biochemistry and winner of the 2013 ACS Award in Polymer Chemistry. ACS is the publisher of C&EN. Pressly, who currently works for Olaplex, got his Ph.D. in materials science from UCSB and was a member of Hawker’s research group. 
Olaplex introduced Bond Multiplier to stylists in early 2014. Later that year, a L’Oreal-owned firm started to distribute it. Sales were so strong that L’Oreal tried, unsuccessfully, in early 2015 to hire Hawker and Pressly. It then offered to buy Olaplex, the suit alleges. 
By May, talks had advanced and L’Oreal had signed a confidentiality agreement giving it access to Olaplex’s proprietary information. But by September negotiations fell apart. Shortly thereafter, the suit charges, L’Oreal created three “knock offs that it hoped would mimic Olaplex’s success.”
There's something odd to this story, in that I presume that huge multinational corporations don't decide to get into IP disputes with startups unless they can think they can get away with it -- and outside of this lawsuit, it seems like they have. It will be fascinating to see how this ends up proceeding. 

2 comments:

  1. It reminds me of the story about the original Ghostbusters movie wanting Huey Lewis to write their theme song for ~$2,000,000. He refused, so the movie producers ended up going with a song that was a knockoff of one of Lewis's songs. Lewis sued the producers, and got $2,000,000 in damages (or something of that order). I suspect L'Oréal is just strong-arming the start-ups into selling their company or IP to them.

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  2. It reminds me of a story too...my undergrad chem classmate went on to become a patent lawyer for a law firm that once represented L'Oreal in another patent lawsuit. My friend lost the suit so L'Oreal sued him for malpractice. It ruined his career in patent law. He won that suit (L'Oreal was guilty), but ruined his career because his malpractice ins.rate skyrocketed. He now practices criminal law as it pays more than chemistry.

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