EPO Enjoined for Advertising of Shark Model Steam Irons

On May 15, 2014, a preliminary injunction was granted in a suit brought by Groupe SEB USA, Inc. (“SEB”), enjoining Euro-Pro Operating LLC (“EPO”) from engaging in false advertising and unfair competition.

SEB claimed that the packaging for certain Shark model steam irons, sold by EPO, stated, “more powerful steam vs. Rowenta at half the price,” with the disclaimer “Based on comparative steam burst testing.”  Yet, independent testing revealed that certain Rowenta model steam irons, sold by SEB, outperformed the Shark models in comparative steam burst testing.

The court determined that the comparative product statements were unambiguous and literally false and thus violated the Lanham Act.

The court also concluded that the statement “#1 most powerful steam” was literally false, despite a disclaimer noting that this was in comparison to other steam irons in the same price range, because the statement was placed in juxtaposition to the Rowenta name, directly above the other literally false statement.

The court found further that the statements were material and likely to influence customers’ purchasing decisions, given that “the marketing strategy was intended to induce consumers to purchase Defendant’s product over Plaintiff’s product.”

Finally, the court found that SEB demonstrated that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm. The court noted that the literally false statements on the packaging were likely to cause consumers to choose Shark irons over Rowenta models, which would affect Plaintiff’s relationships with the retailers that sell its products.  Although Plaintiff failed to demonstrate irreparable injury through declining sales, it convincingly demonstrated irreparable harm by showing that it was likely to suffer loss of reputational control, loss of trade, and loss of goodwill.  

The court noted that SEB established that Rowenta and Shark brands compete against one another and that steam power is an important factor for consumers, and Defendant’s literally false, unsubstantiated claims that identify its competitor by name were likely to harm Rowenta’s brand name.

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