CHICAGO — A New England vacuum cleaner company has scored a win in its case against Dyson Inc. over advertising claims, after a Chicago federal judge partially granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
Dyson Inc., a British company known for its high-end vacuums, filed a lawsuit against Newton, Massachusetts-based SharkNinja Operating LLC over advertising campaigns in which it claimed its vacuums had significantly more suction or were better at deep-cleaning. Dyson's U.S. headquarters are located in Chicago.
Dyson claimed its competitor violated the Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising.
In its suit, Dyson has sought to put an end to SharkNinja’s tactics of claiming its product is better than Dyson’s model.
U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall, in a recent ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, noted the Lanham Act does not protect sellers from competition from better or cheaper products, but it does protect sellers “from having their customers lured away from them by deceptive ads.” She cited Schering-Plough Healthcare Prod. Inc. v. Schwarz Pharma Inc. as precedent.
Both sites filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the case.
Dyson launched its DC65 vacuum in the U.S. in January 2014. About six months later, SharkNinja began offering for sale on its website its NV650-series vacuums, which it also referred to as “Rotator Powered Lift-Away” vacuums. The packaging on the NV650 made direct claims against Dyson’s DC65. Specifically, the packaging stated, among other things, that it “Cleans carpets better vs. Dyson’s best vacuum proven by independent lab testing. Based on ASTM F608 in Turbo/Carpet Mode vs. Dyson DC65.”
SharkNinja also made claims about its vacuum on its website.
In October 2014, SharkNinja began airing a revised infomercial. In this one, the company’s CEO says, “In fact, my new Rotator Powered Lift-Away has more suction and deep cleans carpets better than Dyson’s best vacuum.” On the screen is “Shark deep cleans carpets better than Dyson’s best vacuum D65” and “SharkNV650.”
In addition to the infomercial, SharkNinja also ran print advertisements and short commercials.
Gottschall ruled on several points, including whether Intertek, a company that did testing for SharkNinja, was actually independent because of connections to the vacuum maker.
The court ruled that “a reasonable jury could conclude that Intertek was independent of Shark, so Dyson’s motion for summary judgment on this issue is denied.”
Dyson also contents it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its false advertising claim, because, as Dyson argues in its brief: “Shark has no independent testing to support its claim that the NV650 ‘deep cleans carpets better than the re-engineered Ball Multi-Floor, which became Dyson’s ‘best’ vacuum for carpet cleaning when it began selling in the market in April 2015.”
According to Gottschall, Dyson didn’t offer any evidence that Shark ever advertised that its vacuum was better than the Ball Multi-Floor. As a result, Dyson’s motion for summary judgment as to this issue was denied.
Finally, Dyson argued it is entitled to summary judgment on its false advertising claims against SharkNinja in July and August 2014.
In its claim, Dyson contends that SharkNinja didn’t have independent tests to prove the superiority of its vacuum over Dyson’s during this time period, because Shark did not receive the final report establishing that its vacuum was superior until Aug. 12, 2014.
Gottschall said Dyson didn’t provide evidence to support all of its claims.
“A reasonable jury could conclude that a statement on a box that the customer could not see until after he purchased the vacuum was not material to the purchase decision,” she wrote.
As a result, the court said Dyson is not entitled to judgment on false advertising as a matter of law as to the time period of July 8 to August 12, 2014.
In a courtroom counter punch, SharkNinja sought summary judgment on the issue of whether it made false claims that its NV650 Powered Rotator Lift-Away vacuums were better than Dyson’s Ball Multi-Floor vacuums.
The court noted that Dyson had failed to put forth evidence that Shark made any claims that its NV650 Powered Rotator Lift-Away vacuums were better than Dyson’s Ball Multi-Floor vacuums.
Moreover, Dyson failed to put forth evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in its favor on this issue. The court found that SharkNinja was entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to the Ball Multi-Floor and its motion for summary judgment on this issue was granted.
SharkNinja also sought summary judgment on Dyson’s claim that SharkNinja’s ads were misleading, because Dyson has put forth no evidence that customers were misled. Dyson agreed and noted it would not pursue a claim for misleading ads. The motion for summary judgment was granted.
Finally, SharkNinja sought summary judgment on Dyson’s false advertising claims for the time period beginning December 2014.
The vacuum makers both agree that tests conducted in accordance with ASTM F608 are valid evidence that one product removes embedded dirt better than another product.
According to court records, SharkNinja had received from Intertek reports that showed its NV650 and NV651 Rotator Powered Lift-Away vacuums had higher geomean scores (i.e., removed dirt better) than Dyson’s DC65.