By  on September 4, 2014

WASHINGTON — Four of the industry’s largest trade groups are pressing the U.S. International Trade Commission to not initiate an investigation of the 17 American and European brands and retailers named in a patent-infringement case.

Executives from the American Apparel & Footwear Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association, National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association submitted joint written comments to the ITC.

The four associations, representing some of the largest apparel brands and retailers, oppose a complaint filed with the ITC by RevoLaze LLC and TechnoLines LLC accusing companies such as Levi Strauss & Co., VF Corp., Guess Inc., Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. of patent infringement on certain imported laser-abraded denim garments and seeking a ban on those products. The petitioners are seeking what is known as an ITC Section 337 patent-infringement investigation and a remedy known as a general exclusion order, which would restrict imports of the denim products found to be in violation of the patents.

But the four trade groups argue the complaint wrongly targets the 17 brands and retailers named in the complaint, that it could thwart the move toward safer manufacturing processes and would have an adverse impact on the apparel and retail industries.

“The U.S. International Trade Commission has requested comments on whether the relief requested in the complaint in this investigation would, if granted, adversely affect the public health and welfare, the competitive conditions in our economy, the production of like or directly competitive articles and our consumers in the United States,” the four trade groups wrote. “We believe it would, and we therefore request that the ITC not launch the investigation based upon the complaint as filed.”

RevoLaze, a Westlake, Ohio-based laser-technology firm, claims to hold 29 worldwide patents for laser-inscribing methods that apply graphics and patterns on a variety of materials. The company claims a significant portion of its intellectual property uses the laser-scribing technology for fabrics such as denim. Used in distressed denim jeans, the technology is an alternative to controversial sandblasting and costly washing processes.

In its ITC complaint, RevoLaze asserted that the 17 brands and retailers are violating six technology patents covering several denim products. The company also has filed 17 lawsuits in U.S. District Court against each brand and retailer named in the ITC case. Other companies cited in the complaint include Diesel SpA of Italy, Eddie Bauer LLC, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Roberto Cavalli, The Buckle Inc., Koos Manufacturing, Lucky Brand Dungarees, BBC Apparel Group LLC, Gotham Licensing Corp. and Fashion Box Group SpA.

“The 337 infringement analysis requires substantial detailed information regarding the production processes used for the manufacture of the accused denim garments,” the four associations argued. “That information is exclusively in the hands of Jeanologia/GFT and Easy Laser and the foreign apparel producers — not respondents who are merely purchasers of finished apparel products and therefore are not directly responsible for any of the violations being claimed.”

The trade groups also argued that an adverse ITC decision would have “major negative ramifications” on the progress the industry has made toward safer manufacturing through their various social responsibility efforts.

“Our members are working to eliminate the practice of using sandblasting for post-production finishes from our supply chains due to the concerns raised by apparel production workers of significant health risks if the sandblasting is not performed with adequate protective gear using safe work practices in a proper environment,” they said. “A broad import restriction may significantly restrict the use of alternative technology, which would chill efforts to remove harmful sandblasting techniques and encourage a return to the use of sandblasting, creating a serious risk to the health of workers.”

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