Startup Olaplex Alleges L'Oréal Knocked Off Its Products

Hair ProductsThe California startup Olaplex has sued L’Oréal, alleging that the U.S. unit of the French company, home to brands such as Lancôme and Kiehl’s, copied an award-winning hair product and its related marketing strategy.

Olaplex LLC

Olaplex LLC is a Santa Barbara-based company that makes products called “bond builders” that say that they protect hair during bleach treatments. The Olaplex product at issue is the Olaplex Bond Multiplier No 1, which was launched in June 2014.

The Lawsuit

Olaplex LLC sued L’Oréal in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The complaint alleges patent infringement and false advertising. Specifically Olaplex claims that L’Oréal gained access to its proprietary technology, marketing strategy and one of its unpublished patent applications during the discussions about a possible takeover in 2015. These talks about acquisition fell apart by September 2015.

Olaplex argues that it developed the “first successful and effective product in the hair bond building market” and that it is the “world leader in that market.” Olaplex’s founders developed a three-step system that allows its users to lighten hair by bleaching, but still maintain a healthy undamaged appearance. Typically bleach treatments make hair coarse and fragile, and give it a straw-like texture. Olaplex’s approach involves the addition of an active ingredient during bleach treatments to protect the hair. The ingredient is a chemical called “bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate”, the use of which Olaplex obtained patents for. Olaplex also later secured patents for alternatives to the dimaleate form used in the Olaplex products.

Olaplex also claims that L’Oréal tried to hire the employees that L’Oréal believed were responsible for Olaplex Bond Multiplier No 1, then contacted Olaplex about acquiring the company, and then stopped pursuing the deal after the two parties signed a nondisclosure agreement and shared confidential information.

Olaplex claims that L’Oréal began selling three products that infringe upon its patent about one year later and that the imagery used in that products marketing strongly resembles its own. “After receiving that confidential information L’Oréal ceased pursuing the acquisition of Olaplex, and instead willfully took and copied Olaplex’s technology without authorization to create three slavish ‘me too’ knockoffs.” Olaplex argues that L’Oréal “copied the revolutionary three-step Olaplex system (which includes the patented technology at issue) to protect hair during professional bleaching treatments” and asserts that “the marketing imagery produced by L’Oréal bears a strong resemblance to the marketing materials created by Olaplex”.

The L’Oréal products at issue include Matrix Bond Ultim8, Redken pH-Bonder and L’Oréal Professionnel Smartbond.

The Response

A spokeswoman for L’Oréal stated: “We strongly oppose the merit of these claims and the validity of the [Olaplex] patent and L’Oréal USA will defend this position vigorously.”

The Companies

The Paris-based L’Oréal has a huge presence in the hair and beauty markets, with $26.86 billion in revenue in 2015.

Olaplex reported revenues of $60 million last year. It is known for being used by celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lawrence, Kim Kardashian West, and Molly Sims.

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