Procter & Gamble’s Gillette subsidiary filed a federal lawsuit against the Dollar Shave Club yesterday, claiming that the upstart — which has grabbed more than 50% of the online market since opening its portal in 2012 and now claims to be the No. 2 blade brand overall in volume — is infringing on patents that have been “revolutionizing the shaving experience time and again since the advent of the first safety razor” more than a century ago.
“With all those lumbersexuals and their bushy beards taking a big cut out of the razor business, it’s no surprise that competition is fierce. In an effort to protect its slice of the market, Gillette is suing online subscription razor service Dollar Shave Club for violation of intellectual property,” is how Consumerist’s Mary Beth Quirk puts it.
P&G has a slightly different spin.
“We have long invested heavily in innovation, and our talented scientists have dedicated their careers to delivering the best shaving experience possible for men and women around the world,” P&G’s chief legal officer, Deborah P. Majoras, says in a statement. “Our patents help protect the many technical advancements we’ve made through the years — and when it becomes necessary, we take action to protect these important assets.”
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware, claims that “Dollar Shave Club’s shaving products — the ‘Humble Twin,’ ‘The 4X’ and ‘The Executive’ — violate a patented formula Gillette invented to coat its razors and improve the quality of shaves. That includes Gillette’s popular and pricey Fusion line of shavers,” Megan Woolhouse reports for the Boston Globe.
“Gillette uses the patented technology in its own Mach3, Venus and Fusion razors, among others. Its lawsuit seeks damages and an injunction to stop Dollar Shave Club from selling any of the alleged infringing products,” writes the Boston Herald’s Donna Goodison.
Gillette has been a fixture in Boston since 1901, when King C. Gillette “fundamentally transformed shaving with the invention of the first safety razor.” That device received its patent in 1904. Gillette’s South Boston Manufacturing Center, a.k.a. the Gillette World Shaving Headquarters, “has been the technical center for developing and manufacturing the newest wet shaving technology platforms, using state of the art proprietary technology since 1903,” according to the Gillette Newsroom.
Venice, Calif.-based Dollar Shave Club first made a splash with a YouTube video posted by co-founder and CEO Mike Dubin in March 2012 titled “DollarShaveClub.com — Our Blades Are F***ing Great.” It has been viewed more than 21 million times.
“They are now the defendant in a patent infringement suit against a very large, very deep-pocketed competitor who is probably not happy with their prices being undercut,” Ronald E. Cahill, an intellectual property lawyer at Nutter McClennan & Fish LLP in Boston, tells Woolhouse. “So I wouldn’t expect Gillette to go easy on Dollar Shaving Club.” But he adds that P&G’s “reputation is that they are aggressive but not unfair.”
The Financial Times’ Lindsay Whipp points out that although “Gillette dominated the razor market for decades, with Edgewell Personal Care’s Schick brand trailing a distant second,” it has “failed to move quickly with ‘shave clubs,’ an online subscription model delivering razors and accessories to your door.” The Dollar Shave “model has spawned a number of copycats including Harry’s Razor Blades,” Whipp reports.
“P&G tends to charge a premium for products, banking on the notion that its consumers prefer high quality. In June, P&G launched the Gillette Shave Club, apparently in an effort to lure back men who have turned to the Dollar Shave Club to save money on blades bought via the Web,” reports the Cincinnati Business Courier’sBarrett J. Brunsman.
It “builds on the P&G brand’s original subscription service, which allows men to sign up to regularly be mailed Gillette blades. The club includes free shipping and a loyalty program that rewards consumers for purchases.”
Dollar Shave Club’s blades are made by Dorco, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Ziobro and Anne Steele point out, which is “the U.S. arm of a South Korean razor manufacturer, which also makes private-label razors for retailers such as Walgreens and Dollar General. Gillette’s suit doesn’t mention the supplier. Dorco representatives weren’t immediately available for comment.”