The Federal Trade Commission has sued longtime bulb manufacturer Lights of America Inc., charging that some of the company's energy-saving LED bulbs don't burn nearly as brightly or as long as advertised.
Light emitting diode bulbs made by the Walnut company are sold at major national retailers, such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Costco. The suit alleges that Lights of America made false claims about the performance of some bulbs on its packaging and marketing materials beginning in 2008.
FOR THE RECORD:
LED bulbs: An article in the Sept. 10 Business section about a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission against bulb manufacturer Lights of America Inc. included Home Depot in a list of retailers that sold the company's LED bulbs. The bulbs are not sold at Home Depot. —
Brian Halliwell, Lights of America's president of marketing and sales, said the suit filed Tuesday caught the company of about 200 employees off guard. He said the company had been in talks with the U.S. Department of Energy for more than a year on the matter.
"This feels like we're really just a poster child to warn others about making products with claims that they can't back up, ignorantly or otherwise," Halliwell said.
The suit cites several bulbs, including one promoted as being a replacement for a traditional incandescent 40-watt bulb. Although a traditional 40-watt bulb produces 405 lumens of light, the suit said, tests showed that the Lights of America bulb produced only 74 lumens.
The packaging also claimed, "You'll never change your bulbs again," the suit said.
As another example, the suit said, the company contended that one of its bulbs would last 30,000 hours. But tests determined that after only 1,000 hours the bulb lost 80% of its light output, the suit said.
Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, declined to comment on whether the company was still in violation of the agency's rules on product claims, saying only, "The claims they made were false or weren't substantiated when they made them."
Consumers had posted complaints about the Lights of America bulbs on the Internet. One blog showed side-by-side pictures of a lamp with an LED light and traditional bulb. The LED light emitted what appeared to be substantially less light than a traditional one it was meant to replace.
Halliwell said that beginning in February 2008 Lights of America did sell lightbulbs that did not live up to performance claims made by the company. But he said that was before federal agencies issued standards on how to calculate such numbers.
"When we started shipping our first LED bulbs in 2008, we had to include some sort of performance numbers to let the customer know how bright the bulbs were and how long they'd last," Halliwell said.
He said the company relied on statistics obtained from a component supplier.
"The performance numbers ended up being different from the numbers generated in accordance to the standards the federal government came up with," he said.
Halliwell said the packaging was changed in 2009.
"Once the standards came out, we changed the packaging and marketing materials to reflect that, but the FTC suit makes no mention of that," he said.
Last year, Costco customers who had bought some models of Lights of America bulbs were sent a letter from the manufacturer saying the products could be returned for refunds. The letter said that tests "based on new industry standards" indicated that "the life of the product is less than that which is stated on the package."
Costco did not respond to requests for comment.