Counterfeits Can Take the Joy Out of the Holidays

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As the holiday shopping season reaches peak fervor and consumers seek out the best deals available on hot products, gift-givers are more at risk of purchasing counterfeit products of all kinds.  Recently, news articles have warned of counterfeit Fingerlings – the latest “it” toy – along with fake versions of popular electronics, clothing, personal care products, and many other types of goods.  Government bureaus like the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol regularly release holiday bulletins advising of the escalating volume of phony products entering the United States (for example, https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/buyer-beware-counterfeit-goods-and-holiday-shopping-season).  Counterfeits are far from harmless.  Not only are these counterfeit goods generally inferior to authentic products in both quality and safety, fake products are fraud, theft, and infringements of valuable trademarks and other intellectual property.  Sales of counterfeit products can even be criminal.

As a consumer, what can you do to help ensure you’re receiving the genuine article?  The most obvious method is to avoid unfamiliar sources and to buy directly from the manufacturer’s website or from an authorized retailer whenever possible.  If buying on websites like Amazon and eBay (where products are often actually sold by unrelated third parties), it helps to make sure that the seller of the product is the manufacturer or Amazon itself, not an unknown third party.  Often times, third party sellers do not have the ability or desire to properly perform checks on the goods they are selling, and in many cases the third party sellers never actually possess the products – when they receive your order they simply forward the product from a warehouse they have never even seen.  While outlets like Amazon and eBay have some anti-counterfeiting policies and procedures, experience has shown that not every fake product will be screened out.  Consumers should also check the price of the goods to ensure that it is not abnormally low, and examine the packaging and presentation of the product as depicted on the website to help determine whether the product might be fake or foreign-labeled goods.  Compare the look of the product offered with the same product on the manufacturer’s website – if it’s different, that’s a red flag.  Consumers should also not hesitate to contact the manufacturer if they suspect that they have received counterfeit or foreign-labeled goods – in addition to being the primary victims, consumers are often the first line of defense in the fight against counterfeiting.

As a manufacturer or trademark owner, what can you do when you discover your products being sold in an unauthorized channel, with risk of counterfeiting?  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience helping manufacturers and distributors to investigate and, when necessary, litigate counterfeit and other trademark- and intellectual property-infringement claims.  CK&E attorneys are well-versed in the careful initial steps that should promptly be taken when sales of illicit products are suspected.  If the seller is cooperative, litigation can often be avoided.  But if the seller is not, that is a strong indicator that the seller has been selling, and will continue to sell, infringing products unless stopped through litigation.  Whatever you choose to do, consult experienced counsel and decide on your course of action promptly – unreasonable delays can seriously harm your ability to protect your rights.

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WARNING: Are Your Products and Websites Ready for the New Prop 65 Requirements?

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California’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued new Proposition 65 Warning Regulations that will go into effect on August 30, 2018. It is important for companies to understand the changed regulations and be proactive in adapting their product labels and even internet marketing to adapt to the new regulations.  The coming changes have introduced a variety of new concepts, imposing additional burdens on businesses selling their products in California, and making it easier for plaintiff Prop 65 attorneys and groups to bring costly private enforcement actions.

The OEHHA has made significant changes to the safe-harbor language requirements that govern the language, text, and format of such warnings. The new regulations introduce the concept of a “warning symbol,” which must be used on consumer products, though not on food products. The “warning symbol” must be printed in a size no smaller than the height of the word “WARNING,” and should be in black and yellow, but can be in black and white if the sign, label, or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow.

Warnings must now also specifically state at least one listed chemical found in the product and include a link to OEHHA’s new website www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.  These are examples of the new format for more specific warnings:

  • For exposure to carcinogens: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to both carcinogens and reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more listed chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer, and [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

Certain special categories of products, such as food and alcoholic beverages, have a specialized URL that must be used. For example, warnings on food products must display the URL www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/food.

Recognizing that many consumer products have limited space “on-product” to fit the long-form warnings, the OEHHA has enacted new regulations allowing abbreviated “on-product” warnings. This short warning is permissible only if printed on the immediate container, box or wrapper of the consumer product. An example of the required format for the abbreviated warnings is:

  • WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm – www.P65Warnings.ca.gov

The new regulations also specifically address internet sales for the first time. Warnings must be provided with a clearly marked hyperlink on the product display page, or otherwise prominently displayed to the purchaser before completion of the transaction.  It will not be sufficient if the product sold on the internet bears the required label, but the internet point of purchase listing does not.

The particular requirements for each specific product can vary, so manufacturers and resellers are well-advised to seek qualified counsel to review their situation before committing to potentially costly label and website changes that may not comply with the new requirements.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the manufacturing and resale industries, and are ready to help clients navigate the changing regulatory landscape in California and elsewhere.

Although the new regulations take effect August 30, 2018, and the new warning labels are required for products manufactured after that date, companies can begin using the changed labels now. It is definitely not advisable to wait until August 2018 to begin making the required changes.

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The Conkle Firm Featured Panel of 2017 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney H. Kim Sim was on the featured panel of this year’s Legal & Regulatory Conference sponsored by the Personal Care Product Council.  The featured panel, called “California: The Wild, Wild West,” explored the changes and challenges of the new business landscape in California, which boasts an economy that would place it sixth among the world’s nations.  The panel discussion was held on May 10, 2017 at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego, California.   John Conkle, the CK&E attorney originally scheduled to speak on this panel, was unable to appear due to a federal court trial conflict.

 

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What are “Natural” Products Anyway?

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Personal care products that claim to be “natural”, “all natural” or “100% natural” continue to draw scrutiny from consumer advocates and regulatory agencies such as the FTC. Perhaps surprisingly, there still is no clear definition of the word “natural” for personal care products.  It’s no small concern, as consumers and manufacturers can have different expectations of what “natural” means, which can lead to confusion and accusations of false or misleading advertising.

Despite the uncertainty, “natural” product claims matter to consumers. According to a 2015 Nielsen report, 53% of consumers surveyed said that an “all-natural” description was moderately or very important to their purchasing decision. The worldwide natural products industry is estimated at $33 billion – and it’s growing.  “Naturally,” companies want to capitalize on this trend.

But what exactly is a “natural” product? Is it plant-derived? Is it made from ingredients found in nature?  Is it free of preservatives? Is it made without synthetic ingredients?  There are no FDA regulations regarding use of the word natural. However, the FDA has issued non-binding guidance that states it will not contest food products labeled as “natural” if the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Though this provides a limited understanding of the term “natural”, the guidance is as to food, pertains only to FDA enforcement and is not a legal requirement.

In a recent complaint filed with FTC, California Naturel’s sunscreen was alleged to be not “all natural”, as it claimed, because 8% of it was Dimethicone, a synthetic ingredient. Following the FTC complaint, California Naturel put a disclaimer on its website, which was later ruled as ineffective in a 2016 FTC decision.

Starting in 2015, the Honest Company also found itself in court for false advertising in regard to their “natural” products.  Though the Honest Company markets its products as “natural”, the products contain a number of synthetic ingredients. Consumers argued that their understanding of “natural” was a product free of synthetic or artificial ingredients, and the court held that the Honest Company’s  “natural” claims for its products is misleading.

The current trend is that the surest way to avoid complaints when products are advertised as “natural” or “100% natural” is to make certain they are free of synthetic ingredients.  Next to that, disclosure of what you mean by “natural” as used on your product can be an important measure to avoid consumer confusion.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys help their clients navigate these tricky currents by staying up to date on developments affecting the personal care products industry.

 

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The Conkle Firm Wins Injunction Prohibiting Trade Dress Infringement by Zotos

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In September 2016, Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys filed a case on behalf of Moroccanoil against Zotos International, Inc. for trademark infringement by its “Majestic Oil” products. Just four months later, CK&E obtained a Preliminary Injunction against Zotos’ competing products, and within days the case was over.

A Preliminary Injunction is a powerful litigation tool that can immediately stop a defendant from selling products during the litigation. Securing a Preliminary Injunction at the beginning of the case often brings a prompt settlement, as the defendant must decide whether to settle or to fight over the product packaging that it cannot sell.

Getting a Preliminary Injunction can be challenging because the plaintiff must show that it is likely to win the case, and that it will be irreparably harmed if the defendant’s products are allowed in the market while the case proceeds to trial. Recently, courts have made Preliminary Injunctions tougher to get by raising the standards for showing irreparable harm.

In Moroccanoil’s case, the Preliminary Injunction prohibited Zotos from selling its Majestic Oil products in packaging that was confusingly similar to Moroccanoil’s distinctive trade dress. Zotos is a subsidiary of Shiseido America.  Drawing on its knowledge of the beauty industry, CK&E’s presentation of irreparable harm to Moroccanoil’s reputation proved effective – the Court found that continued sales of Majestic Oil products would erode Moroccanoil’s premium position in the hair care market as a professional brand. The Court’s Order granting Moroccanoil’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction is available here, and is published at Moroccanoil, Inc. v. Zotos Int’l, Inc., 230 F. Supp. 3d 1161 (USDC C.D. Cal. 2017).

On the heels of the Preliminary Injunction, the parties settled the case with Zotos agreeing to pay a substantial portion of Moroccanoil’s attorneys’ fees and to drop the confusingly similar trade dress of the Majestic Oil products. In total, the case was fully resolved within 6 months of filing, and the only litigation activity was CK&E’s Motion for the Preliminary Injunction.

To learn more about the case, contact the CK&E attorneys who lead the team for Moroccanoil, Mark Kremer, Evan Pitchford and Zachary Page.

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At Critical Juncture, CK&E Defeats Consumer Class Action Against Charity

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On October 13, 2016 Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Eric S. Engel and Zachary Page successfully defended a charitable organization faced with an attempted consumer class action.  In Delgado v. Cars 4 Causes, a charity that accepted donations of vehicles was charged with fraud, false advertising, unfair competition and violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA).  Plaintiff Delgado had donated a boat and trailer to Cars 4 Causes, and later complained that Cars 4 Causes did not adequately disclose its fees before providing a portion of the net proceeds from sale of the donation to Delgado’s designated third party charity.

In a class action, a critical juncture is reached when the plaintiff files a motion to ask the court to certify a class.  Without a class certification, the action is just an individual claim, often with little value on its own.  In Delgado v. Cars 4 Causes, CK&E was able to present compelling evidence and legal arguments that the claims of the prospective class members did not have sufficient common issues of fact, and that the proposed class members were not sufficiently ascertainable, to permit class certification.  When class certification is denied, courts often allow the plaintiff a second or third chance to modify his class definition or otherwise amend his claims in order to meet the class certification requirements.  But in Delgado v. Cars 4 Causes, CK&E was able to present such solid evidence and legal argument that the court was convinced of the futility of any such additional chances for the plaintiff.  As a result, the court denied Delgado’s motion for class certification
“with prejudice.”  This permanent denial of class certification ended the plaintiff’s effort to pursue a class action against Cars 4 Causes.

CK&E attorneys have substantial experience and success in defending class actions ranging from consumer unfair competition, false advertising and CLRA claims, to employment wage and hour claims.

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The Conkle Firm Advises BIMA Participants on IP and Regulatory Issues

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Once again, Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Mark Kremer and Kim Sim have been honored to participate in and contribute to the revolutionary Beauty Industry Market Access (BIMA) program, led by beauty industry guru Patty Schmucker of American Made Beauty.  BIMA is a multi-day intensive domestic and international trade and business education program taught by leading health and beauty industry experts. BIMA participants focus on key principles essential to expand their personal care products businesses both in the U.S. and overseas.

Mark contributes to the BIMA educational program by teaching modules on domestic and foreign intellectual property protection and international distribution agreements.   Participants are particularly advised about cost-effective methods of protecting their intellectual property internationally, such as international trademark registrations through the Madrid System, which can offer a centralized application process for trademark registration in over 90 countries based on a brand owner’s domestic application or registration.  Kim adds her expertise in domestic regulatory compliance, including Prop 65, California Organic Products Act (COPA), Safe Cosmetics Act, California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations and survey requirements, and federal and state Made in the USA regulations.

BIMA is sponsored by Universal Companies, which has been in the beauty industry for over 18 years and is an important distributor of more than 300 brands in the spa, salon, esthetics and massage market, as well as their own proprietary brands.

In partnership with the California Trade Alliance (CTA), access to international trade shows are available to companies that participate in the BIMA programs. BIMA participants can exhibit in the popular California Pavilion regularly sponsored by CTA at Cosmoprof Bologna and Cosmoprof Hong Kong, among the world’s largest and most important beauty industry trade shows.

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PCPC’s California Lobby Day was a Great Success

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On April 12, 2016, Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John Conkle flew to Sacramento to be part of Personal Care Products Council’s delegation for California Lobby Day. The Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) advocates for the personal care products, beauty and cosmetics industry at federal, state and local levels on legislative priorities and regulatory issues.

Conferences held in the Governor’s Council Room featured presentations by Nancy McFadden (Executive Secretary to Governor Edmund G. Brown), Graciela Castillo-Krings (Deputy Legislative Secretary to Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.), Dr. Meredith Williams (Deputy Director of Safer Products and Workplaces Program Director, Department of Toxics & Substance Control), and Elise Rothschild (Deputy Director of the Hazardous Waste Management Program, Department of Toxics & Substance Control).  John joined teams of PCPC staff and member companies who met with legislative offices to discuss the economic impact of the industry and legislation pending before the California legislature. The day’s events were capped with a reception at which PCPC staff and members were joined by California State Legislators.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel is a proud and active member of the Personal Care Products Council.  CK&E attorneys are glad to lend their legal expertise to the PCPC and its member companies by participating in PCPC conferences and industry advocacy efforts..

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Labels Matter: Consumer Class Actions are Available for Organic Labeling Violations

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The California Supreme Court has affirmed that “labels matter” to both buyers and sellers of consumer products. “They serve as markers for a host of tangible and intangible qualities consumers may come to associate with a particular source or method of production.” California protects consumers from mislabeling through a number of laws, including possible class action lawsuits under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civil Code §§ 1750 et seq.), unfair competition laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq.) and false advertising laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17500 et seq.)

Aside from California’s general false labeling laws, there are specific laws and regulations regarding organic product labeling. The California Organic Products Act (COPA), generally requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. But COPA is designed to work in concert with Federal regulations that direct baseline standards for production, labeling and sale of organic products. The California Supreme Court recently addressed whether the Federal regulations of organic products in some manner preempt or supersede California’s consumer protection laws, so that only the very limited Federal remedies can be pursued when there are alleged violations of organic labeling laws.

In Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., the California Supreme Court determined that California’s general laws prohibiting labeling misrepresentation do not conflict with the Federal laws concerning organic production, labeling and sale, but rather complement those Federal laws by allowing additional remedies to be pursued when those laws are broken by fraudulent organic product labeling. The Supreme Court observed that “permitting state consumer fraud actions would advance, not impair” the goals of providing “a level playing field” to manufacturers of organic products and “enhance consumer confidence in meaningful labels and reduce the distribution network’s reluctance to carry organic products.” From this perspective, where products are fraudulently mislabeled as organic, “the prosecution of such fraud, whether by public prosecutors where resources and state laws permit, or through civil suits by individuals or groups of consumers, can only serve to deter mislabeling and enhance consumer confidence.”

The result for manufacturers, distributors and resellers is that organic product labeling can create concerns at multiple levels, including federal and state regulatory liability, and class actions under strong state consumer protection laws. All those involved in the chain of manufacturing and distribution of products labeled as organic should consult with experienced counsel to protect themselves from potential adverse outcomes that can come from several directions. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are well versed in helping their clients proactively avoid and resolve such problems.

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CK&E to Present on Emerging Legal Issues at PCPC Emerging Issues Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys John Conkle and Kim Sim will once address current legal trends and developments in the cosmetic and personal care products industry at the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC)’s Emerging Issues Conference on November 18, 2015 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey, California.

John and Kim will present on “Emerging Legal Issues in the Cosmetic and Personal Care Products Industry.”  The topics to be discussed include recent developments involving enforcement of prohibitions on container slack fill, trends in lawsuits and agency action concerning advertising, an update on the California Air Resources Board’s ongoing Consumer and Commercial Products Survey, as well as a discussion about protecting companies from counterfeiting and cybersquatting in the digital age.

CK&E’s presentation from last year’s Emerging Issues Conference can be found here.

The annual event by the PCPC – the leading national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry – is a must-attend for beauty companies across the country, with its unique focus on the many challenges that are on the horizon for the beauty industry.

This year’s agenda will also include updates from the PCPC on key issues for the industry and from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control on the California Safer Consumer Products and Workplaces regulations, as well as presentations on emerging issues in the Americas, safety standards for cosmetics, current and future challenges for Proposition 65.  In addition, Deputy Attorney General Robert Sumner is slated to speak at the conference.

CK&E is pleased to once again participate in this annual event and to offer its experience and insight into legal issues affecting the industry to the PCPC and its members.

 

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