Issue Date: September 11, 2017 | Web Date: September 6, 2017
Startup sues L’Oreal over anti-aging ingredient
A religious group has filed suit against L’Oreal claiming that the cosmetics giant infringed on patents covering use of the nucleoside adenosine in wrinkle-erasing creams that the charity sells to raise money for the poor. L’Oreal says it did not violate the group’s patents.
According to the suit, filed in Delaware federal court, the Massachusetts-based Teresian Carmelites introduced Easamine, a high-end anti-wrinkle cream containing adenosine, in 2009. Easamine sales were initially strong, say the Teresians, who describe themselves as a “Christian monastery dedicated to prayer, contemplation, and service to the poor.”
But in 2010, as the Teresians were about to expand their skin care line, L’Oreal launched its competing Youth Code line of antiaging skin products featuring adenosine. Sales of Easamine, through the Teresians’ for-profit Carmel Labs arm, didn’t meet the group’s expectations, and they were unable to pay their monastery’s mortgage.
Adenosine has long been known to play an important role in biochemical processes such as energy transfer. Pharmaceutical-grade adenosine is also used to treat heart conditions.
Two University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers, James G. Dobson Jr. and Michael Ethier, discovered that topical application of adenosine, its derivatives, and analogs, could enhance the skin’s condition. They patented their discovery in 2002 and 2003.
“This extraordinary breakthrough was uncovered during a medical study on how aging affects heart function,” the Teresians say on their website.
In 2008, the Teresians became the exclusive licensee of the university’s patents. In their suit, the Teresians allege that L’Oreal attempted to file its own adenosine use patent in 2002, but the big firm later abandoned it because of the preexisting university patents. In 2003, L’Oreal tried to license the university’s patents but didn’t succeed.
In court documents responding to the Teresians’ complaint, L’Oreal says its Youth Code formulas use adenosine at concentrations not covered by the university’s patents. The firm has asked the court to dismiss the Teresians’ suit, which seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction against L’Oreal’s sale of competing skin care products.
L’Oreal tells C&EN in an email that “While we admire the purpose of the work [the Teresians and Carmel Labs] are doing together, we find no merit in [their] allegations. We expressed this point of view in many conversations (some in person) we had with the Teresian Carmelites and their outside legal advisers over the past two years.”
L’Oreal is enmeshed in at least one other dispute with a startup over stolen technology. Late last year, Olaplex, the makers of a product that protects hair during bleaching and color treatments, sought an injunction against L’Oreal and unspecified damages for its similar hair treatment.
The Olaplex lawsuit charged that L’Oreal’s use of maleic acid in hair treatments violated Olaplex patents licensed from two University of California, Santa Barbara, polymer scientists.
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