United States: Dyson Sucks Up $16.4 Million At Trial

Longtime rival SharkNinja engaged in false advertising, says jury

Of Knights and Ninjas

Let's just say that these two brands are ... different.

To start, there's the European vacuum maker founded by a British knight – Dyson – that chooses to buck typographical convention by using a lowercase "d" in its name. Across the pond is Dyson's American competitor SharkNinja – a company that similarly has taken a unique naming approach by adopting a hybrid aquatic-predator-martial-arts-assassin as its brand.

While the storyline of a knight locked in battle with a shark-ninja would otherwise sound like the makings of a blockbuster movie, these two companies have unfortunately found themselves battling in the courtroom.

Hot Air

Back in 2014, SharkNinja ran ads that caught the attention of Dyson's lawyers. According to a complaint filed in the Northern District of Illinois that same year, SharkNinja claimed on its packaging, print ads and television spots that its vacuums were "as good as" Dyson's products but available at a lower price. Some of SharkNinja's ads, according to the complaint, go even further by making broad superiority claims over all Dyson vacuums and all upright vacuum cleaners on the market. The complaint referenced two previous National Advertising Division (NAD) decisions finding that these ads were "false and misleading" and recommending that the makers of SharkNinja cease using the claims made in the ads.

More specifically, Dyson accused SharkNinja of falsely claiming that its Rotator Powered Lift-Away vacuum "outperforms" the Dyson DC65 vacuum on certain carpets by 15 percent. Dyson claimed that this figure was not supported by "head-to-head [testing] under the industry-accepted test protocol for measuring cleaning performance on carpets."

The suit charged SharkNinja with false advertising under the Lanham Act, deceptive trade practices under Illinois compiled statutes and false advertising under Illinois common law. Dyson calculated its losses as a result of SharkNinja's advertising at approximately $18 million, arguing that the amount would be sufficient compensation given that the ads aired in the final four months of 2014, which are allegedly the busiest and most profitable months for vacuum cleaner sales. Failing to otherwise resolve the dispute, the parties eventually went to trial in May 2018.

The Takeaway

Dyson and SharkNinja have been going at it hammer and tongs for a while now through a number of actions, including a patent infringement case (also in Illinois), the aforementioned NAD proceedings and a more recent NAD preference claims dispute we covered in August 2017. SharkNinja also hit Dyson with its own false advertising complaint in 2014.

This latest act in the drama ended when a jury tossed a win to Dyson in its 2014 Lanham Act case concerning the Dyson DC65 vacuum and SharkNinja's claims in June of this year. The jury found that SharkNinja had acted willfully and awarded Dyson $16.4 million in damages based on profits generated by SharkNinja's 2014 ad campaign.

Advertisers, particularly those in highly competitive industries, should view this case as a cautionary tale and take care when making comparative claims. If a court finds that such claims are not backed up by appropriate evidence, the damages can be significant.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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