Olaplex is guarding its secret sauce.
The professional hair-care brand, which has been a hit with hair colorists for enabling them to push the boundaries of bleaching, has filed a lawsuit accusing L’Oréal of entering the market with copycats. Olaplex’s formulas are designed to rebuild broken hair bonds, and products from L’Oréal’s brands distributed in salons tout similar benefits.
In the patent-infringement lawsuit introduced Tuesday in the U.S. District Court Central District of California, Olaplex argued, “L’Oréal embarked on a brazen scheme and created not one but three ‘me-too’ knock-offs that it hoped would mimic Olaplex’s success.” Specifically, Olaplex points to Matrix Bond Ultim8, Redken pH-Bonder and L’Oréal Professionnel Smartbond as the knockoffs.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman at L’Oréal’s Paris headquarters refuted the validity of the lawsuit. “We strongly oppose the merit of these claims and the validity of the patent, and L’Oréal USA will defend this position vigorously,” she said.
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Olaplex’s lawsuit outlines L’Oréal’s duplication efforts originated with an attempt to acquire Olaplex last year. During acquisition due diligence, it states the conglomerate accessed Olaplex’s proprietary information and harnessed that information to replicate Olaplex’s bond-strengthening products. “L’Oréal ceased pursuing the acquisition of Olaplex, and instead willfully took and copied Olaplex’s technology without authorization,” the lawsuit reads.
Olaplex is available at roughly one million salons in more than 80 countries, and generated an estimated $60 million in revenues for 2015. Earlier this year, Olaplex owner Dean Christal told WWD, “It literally grows by about 1,000 salons a day worldwide.” Christal has a long history in the hair-care industry. He worked with his brother Don, who started the brand Alterna now owned by Henkel, his father was a beauty distributor and his mother ran a salon at home.
Launched in 2014, Olaplex was founded after Christal met scientists Craig Hawker and Eric Pressly. Hawker and Pressly developed the technology Olaplex leverages to protect hair during treatments. Olaplex alleges L’Oréal tried to hire Hawker and Pressly away from the company, along with other Olaplex employees. It also contends L’Oréal fought to stop the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office from issuing the patent on keratin treatment formulas that Olaplex relies upon. The patent was issued Nov. 22, the same day Olaplex filed suit against L’Oréal.