Bad news for millions of men: the dusseldorf higher regional court has preliminarily banned razor manufacturer wilkinson from selling in germany low-priced replacement blades for its rival gillette’s widely used "mach3" wet razor.
The court ruled on thursday that the imitation blades infringe a gillette patent on the typical connection between the handle and the blade unit of the razor.
If you like wet shaving, you know the problem: the razor is cheap, but the replacement blades are really expensive. Many owners of gillette’s wet razor model were all the more delighted last spring when matching replacement blades suddenly appeared in many drugstores at around 30 percent less than the original.
The replacement blades were marketed as the drugstore brands’ own brands, but they were manufactured by gillette rival wilkinson and its parent company edgewell.
"Mach3" inventor gillette, who developed the three-blade razor in the 1990s and previously held a monopoly on the replacement blades, refused to accept this. He saw his patent violated and went to court.
In july of last year, the dusseldorf regional court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting wilkinson from selling the replacement blades. Gillette was also proven right in the second instance.
According to economics professor michael stephan of the university of marburg, the case shows how much patent law has changed in recent years from a defensive shield to a strategic weapon in competition. Even comparatively simple products such as wet razors have now been protected by a veritable "patent thicket. Gillette has applied for 35 patents for the "mach3 turbo" alone.
Often it is a matter of the smallest details: in the present case, among other things, that the "unit connecting structure has a cutout that is functional as a keyway for receiving a matching key structure on said handpiece when said handpiece is moved along said connecting axis.".
The gillette parent company procter& gamble was "very pleased" with the verdict. The company said: "we invest heavily in innovation. It is therefore important that we can protect our new developments and the work of the many experts behind them."
Despite the dusseldorf ruling, "mach3" owners can hope to get cheaper blades again in the foreseeable future. Because the disputed patent expires next month.
And wilkinson is determined to stick to its strategy of taking market share from its rival with cheaper replacement blades. The temporary injunction issued by the court will remain in force until the patent expires on 18 december. February of this year, the company announced after the judgment hearing. And added: "in other european countries, our replacement blades are already offering consumers a favorable alternative and are now finding widespread acceptance there."
One thing is certain: even after the dusseldorf ruling, the dispute between the razor manufacturers is not over. Because a nullity suit by wilkinson against the "mach3" patent is still pending before the federal patent court. The reason: the mechanics described therein were not really new at the time the patent was granted in 1998. So gillette and wilkinson will continue to cross blades.