It’s not every day that a small company gains the advantage over a massive one, but Clio USA stands to do just that with pharmaceutical superpower Procter & Gamble.
If you’ve bought a tooth-whitening product recently, chances are it came from P&G, which controls the market for home tooth whitening devices. Products like Crest Whitestrips earn the company about $250 Million in revenue each year.
However, if you bought a generic tooth whitening product from a retailer like Target, CVS or K-Mart for about $20 less, there’s a good chance it came from Clio USA. The small New Jersey-based company only controls about 3% of the market, but that wasn’t enough to keep it from attracting the attention of P&G’s patent lawyers.
In 2012, P&G slapped Clio with a lawsuit claiming that the small company was infringing on their patents for teeth whitening strips. Unfortunately for the bigger company, the Cincinatti judge reviewing the case delayed the start of the trial to give Clio time to challenge the validity of P&G’s patents.
P&G’s struggles to control the whitening strip market didn’t start with Clio. In another lawsuit, the company settled with Johnson & Johnson to make it discontinue its Listerine Whitening Quick Dissolving Strips, but Clio is fighting back, which could have dramatic ramifications for the whole industry.
A preliminary ruling from the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board in January ruled in Clio’s favor, a decision which P&G challenged unsuccessfully. This bodes well for Clio’s case, which is bad for Clio but good for consumers. If white strip technology was available from more companies, competition will increase quality and decrease prices.
About 100 million people use teeth whitening treatments each year, and $15 billion of the $100 billion Americans spend on dental care each year goes to products and procedures for whitening teeth, the most popular cosmetic procedure in the country.
$1.4 billion a year is spent on over-the-counter products like those sold by P&G and Clio, and with tooth whitening expanding every year, controlling that growing chunk of market is becoming even more important.
The trial, set to begin in August, will definitely be one to watch. Not only does it stand to expand the cosmetic dentistry market, it also stands to make the Patent Board re-evaluate its practices.
Clio CEO Peter Cho believes his company has a good chance of success against what he calls P&G’s “bullying tactics” and plans to fight the lawsuit to the end.