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BriteSmile Accuses Rival of Patent Infringement

Courts: The firm files suit to challenge Discus Dental's methods in tooth-whitening process.

July 10, 2002|RONALD D. WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The highly competitive $1-billion tooth-whitening industry has another skirmish on its hands, this time a patent infringement lawsuit between two California companies looking to corner the market on a state-of-the-art "chairside whitening" process using a light-sensitive hydrogen peroxide gel.

Walnut Creek, Calif.-based BriteSmile Inc., which filed suit against Discus Dental Inc. of Culver City, is not challenging the chemical formulation of Discus' in-office whitening process, but it is accusing the company of violating two patents obtained this year on the method of delivery. One patent is for whitening teeth by isolating, preparing the bleaching and then exposing teeth to light during the process; the other is for using a transparent and light-sensitive whitening gel.

"You can patent the method and that is the law of the land," Brite- Smile Chief Executive John Reed said. Reed said his company was aware of Discus Dental's efforts to use the same method last year, but said his company was restrained from taking legal action until the patents were official.

"Want your smile back? Come on in," says a typical BriteSmile ad. "The process takes just over an hour. The reward lasts for years."

It's the second lawsuit filed by BriteSmile against Discus Dental this year. Earlier, the company accused Discus Dental of interfering with contractual arrangements with dentists by pushing its ZOOM! Product, which uses the advertising slogan "Ignite the White."

Discus Dental Chief Operating Officer Ken Rosenblood slammed both lawsuits as the desperate acts of a company that has seen its stock price drop by more than two-thirds since March.

"We haven't violated any patents and you can't violate a contract if the contract is illegal in the first place."

Both companies are vying for the lucrative California market and for a decisive share of the more than 1.2 million Americans who annually use over-the-counter bleaching kits, custom-fitted bleaching trays, whitening gels or undergo laser or light treatments in dental offices.

Reed and Rosenblood said that their companies are banking on a sense among Americans that white teeth have become a social imperative. Reed and other experts added that California, particularly its southern half, is one of the hot zones for cosmetic dentistry along with New York City and a few other parts of the nation.

Discus Dental is not a publicly traded company. It is projecting revenue of $100 million this year.

BriteSmile reported losses in each of the last four quarters on revenue of $42 million. Its stock closed up 4 cents to $2 on Nasdaq, down from its 2002 high of $6.26 on March 11.

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