The U.S. International Trade Commission recently initiated an investigation into the patent infringement complaint regarding laser-abraded denim technology based upon the complaint filed by RevoLaze LLC and TechnoLines LLC last month. The complaint alleges that 17 companies, including Levi Strauss &Co., VF Corp., Guess Inc., Gap Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., and American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., have violated section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 in the importation into the U.S. and sale of certain laser-abraded denim garments that they said infringe their patent. The companies are asking the ITC to impose a “general exclusion order” which directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop all allegedly infringing products from entering the U.S.
RevoLaze claims that it holds 29 patents for laser inscribing methods that apply graphics and patterns on various materials. The technology is apparently a substitute for the sandblasting process and is used in distressed denim jeans. According to RevoLaze, its technology is being used illegally by the named respondants.
Four of the fashion industry’s largest trade groups (the American Apparel & Footwear Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association, National Retail Federal and Retail Industry Leaders) opposed the complaint, arguing that the complaint wrongly targets the 17 respondents named in the complaint, and that it would have an adverse impact on the industry. According to the trade groups, a broad import restrictions would only significantly restrict the use of alternative technology, which would chill efforts to remove harmful sandblasting techniques (sandblasting apparently raises health risk concerns with apparel production workers if they do not wear, or are not provided, adequate protective gear).
Back in 2012, Louis Vuitton also relied on a 337 case against an enterprise of US and Chinese companies that was counterfeiting and importing large quantities of infringing products. While the industry has rarely relied upon such actions, they are expected to become more common, especially with the rise of tech products such as wearable technologies, and the industry’s expansion into emerging markets.