Dastar/preemption bars claims based on allegedly false claims of credit for innovation

OptoLum, Inc. v. Cree, Inc., No. CV-16-03828, 2017 WL
1057924 (D. Ariz. Mar. 21, 2017)
The parties compete in the market for LED lights. OptoLum
claims to be the inventor of technology used inside LED bulbs allowing them to
have the look and feel of traditional incandescent bulbs.  It alleged false advertising under the Lanham
Act, an unjust enrichment claim, and two patent infringement claims (which I
will not discuss).
The court found that these claims were puffery:
• The “Cree Filament Tower™
Technology” is “the genius idea inside” the Cree LED bulb;
• Cree “found a way to put the LEDs
in the center of the bulb like a traditional light bulb” and “we’re making an
LED but we are actually inventing all the technology in between”;
• “[O]ne of the technical
breakthroughs that enabled Cree to break the $10 threshold is our new Cree
Filament Tower™ Technology. The Filament Tower™ is the Cree innovation that
lets our LED bulb replicate the look and feel of filament based traditional
lights”;
• “[Cree] engineers came up with a
very elegant solution to the design issues inherent in LED bulbs. In a compact
form, the Filament Tower produced the light dispersion we wanted without
problematic heat building”;
• “[I]nventing the LED technology
that delivers like an incandescent was hard work, but designing a bulb in a
form-factor that consumers trust at a price they can afford was even harder.
Designed with Cree LED Filament Tower Technology, the Cree LED bulb represents
a breakthrough in LED bulb design and performance”; and
• “[Cree] invented the
lighting-class LED.”
The court found these all nonactionable puffery as a matter
of law.   The claim that Cree’s Filament Tower
Technology was a “genius idea” was “the epitome of puffing.” Likewise, the
other statements about “breakthroughs” were “not specific, not concrete, not
measurable, and therefore puffery.” A “very elegant solution” was “sufficiently
imprecise to constitute puffery,” as were the “look and feel,” “long useful
life,” and “energy efficiency and low cost” claims.
OptoLum argued that Cree falsely claimed that it was the
source of ingenuity, innovation, and technological breakthroughs attributable
to OptoLum.  The court replied: Dastar
A contrary holding would create a conflict with the Patent Act.

Similar reasoning doomed the unjust enrichment claim.  OptoLum alleged that there was significant
value in being perceived by consumers as an innovator, inventor, and creator of
groundbreaking technology. But patent law preempts an unjust enrichment claim
based on such grounds.  Given that the
plaintiff’s right to relief would depend on resolving inventorship, a
substantial question of patent law, patent law preemped “any state law that
purports to define rights based on inventorship.”  While a contract implied in fact could support
an equitable unjust enrichment claim if no formal contract existed between the
parties, those weren’t the allegations here.

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