New Lawsuits: Gillette and P&G

By Dennis Crouch

Two interesting consumer products lawsuits filed this week:

  • Gillette Company v. BK Gifts, Docket No. 13-cv-02241 (N.D. Ohio); and
  • Procter & Gamble Company v. Conopco, Inc. and Unilever United States, Inc., Docket No., 13-cv-00732 (S.D. Ohio).

Gillette sued BK Gifts for selling generic knock-off versions of the popular Gillette MACH3 and Proglide razor blades. The defendant has not been selling these as counterfeit goods but rather as goods offering the same functionality at a substantially lower price. Their website stated: “STOP OVERPAYING FOR RAZOR BLADES . . . If you like Gillette┬« MACH3┬«, MACH3┬« SENSITIVE or M3 Power you’ll love our Classic Razor Blades.” Now, the website states “WE No Longer Sell Razors Due to a Pending Lawsuit With Gillette.”

In the lawsuit, Gillette does not suggest that it invented any new technology or useful good but rather asserted six design patents that cover the ornamental design of its razors. US Design Patent Nos. D415315, D422751, D430023, D440874, D531518, and D575454. Of interest, the D’315 should expire on October 12, 2013 and several others will expire in 2014.

P&G’s lawsuit against Unilever involves three shampoo concoctions that are useful for dandruff: US Patent Nos. 6,451,300, 6,649,155, and 6,974,569. Although the patent makes some claims regarding the effective treatment of dandruff, I don’t see any file history information where the PTO asked for any proof to back-up those claims. An interesting aspect of the dispute is that P&G and Unilever have an ongoing contractual process for resolving patent disputes that involve a tiered approach that begins with good faith negotiations, then moves to mediation, and finally to non-binding arbitration. If that process fails, then the case can file in court. The complaint in this case indicates that the process has been successful in that the parties have settled five different patent disputes over the past five years without having to file a civil action. However, P&G alleges that Unilever has refused to arbitrate the case and instead filed inter partes review petitions with the PTO and filed a declaratory judgment action in the UK challenging the patent there. See IPR Nos. 2013-0505, 2013-0509, 2013-0510.

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The twin patent-term-adjustment cases of Exelixis, Inc. v. Rea and Novartis AG v. Rea are now scheduled for oral arguments at the PTO.

15 thoughts on “New Lawsuits: Gillette and P&G

  1. Re Gillette, those competitor razors must be very very close indeed because the claims on those patents appear to be incredibly narrrow (e.g., link to patentgenius.com….The ’874 is for a “container” design that seems rather obvious in view of several thousand years of container designs.link to scribd.com…Of interest, the D’315 should expire on October 12, 2013 and several others will expire in 2014.So Gillette has nothing to lose really by asserting these patents against anyone and everyone who has a tiny tiny tiny chance of caving in to their demands.

        1. The tone of your post left me with the impression that you feel they are a “troll”, or as bad as a “troll” and I wanted to be sure I understood your position.Why did you ask, why did I ask?

          1. as bad as a “troll”Gillette actually makes stuff that ordinary people can (and do) buy. They aren’t a bunch of money-grubbing attorneys who “monetize” patents that they’ve purchased soley for the purpose of “monetizing” them.That said, towards the end of the life of a patent, the motivations for asserting that patent (“Let’s make some money off this suckah because in a short time it’s not going to be worth nothin to nobody”) can become more difficult to distinguish. I’m curious to know what BK Gifts allegedy infringing products look like actually. Perhaps someone who has peeked at the complaint can let us know …?

            1. Do they look any more like the three-blade design patents claims at issue here than they do Gillete’s two-blade design patents (most of which I assume expired quite a while ago)? I mean, other than the three blades which plainly can’t be the distinguishing “design” feature. Isn’t Gillette’s whole game “designing” “new” cartridges that aren’t compatible with their earlier (off patent) handles?

            2. They look like the drawings in the article above. I’m due for a trip to the optometrist. Do you think the blades are shown dotted in the drawing above?

            3. No, the blades aren’t shown dotted but it’s a three blade razor. How would you arrange the blades? Even a detailed three-blade design can be obvious, particularly if the design basically mimics Gillette’s (or someone else’s) two blade design.If you have trouble with this, imagine 7 blades where there are three blades in the current design. Oops, I just innovated again.

            4. You can change the spacing between the blades, the angle of the blades, the length of the blades, the width of the blades, the location, shape or existence of lubricating strips….and of course, the shape of the housing…..

    1. “So Gillette has nothing to lose really by asserting these patents against anyone and everyone who has a tiny tiny tiny chance of caving in to their demands.”But but but its part of tha patent bargain!

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