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Clorox sues Reckitt Benckiser over false advertising, unfair competition claims

U.S. household products maker The Clorox Co. said March 20 it filed a lawsuit against Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC accusing its British rival of "wide-ranging false and deceptive advertising" that misled consumers into buying the U.K. company's Lysol products.

"Not only do [Reckitt Benckiser's] ads falsely claim that Lysol products are superior, they disparage the well-established effectiveness and value of Clorox products." said Eric Reynolds, executive vice president of Clorox's cleaning and Burt's Bees business.

In its false advertising and unfair competition lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Clorox claims that Reckitt Benckiser's advertisements "unfavorably" compare its Lysol brand products with those of the American company's.

The ads make "apples-to-oranges" comparisons between Clorox's products such as Clorox disinfecting wipes against Reckitt Benckiser's Lysol disinfectant spray, instead of its Lysol disinfecting wipes, according to court documents.

Clorox claims that, in one of the commercials, the nonspecific references to their brand and Lysol's convey a "false message" that Reckitt Benckiser's product is more effective at eliminating germs, including the rhinovirus, which is the predominant cause of the common cold. However, both disposable wipes are not approved for use against rhinovirus.

The court documents also cited other Reckitt Benckiser advertisements that placed its products against "non-comparable" Clorox products, such as its Lysol daily cleanser versus Clorox clean-pp, and its Lysol power toilet bowl cleaner versus Clorox regular liquid bleach.

The Oakland, Calif.-based company also accused Reckitt Benckiser of misleading consumers that some of its products have equal effectiveness, like its own disinfecting spray and disinfecting wipes, and making false comparisons about the strength of Clorox's wipes against that of Lysol's.

"Reckitt's false advertising has diverted to Reckitt sales that Clorox otherwise would have made," the company said in the filing, adding that it harms both Clorox's reputation and consumers who rely on advertisements to "make educated purchasing decisions."

Clorox is seeking an order to cease the distribution of Reckitt Benckiser's ads, as well as damages to be determined during trial, along with attorney's fees and other costs. The company is also requesting that the court require Reckitt Benckiser to surrender profits it earned from the ads and that the British company produce and distribute court-approved corrective advertising.

The maker of depilatory products under the Clearasil and Dettol brands declined to comment on Clorox's statement or any other details related to the ongoing litigation.

However, the company said in an emailed statement to S&P Global Market Intelligence that it stands behind the claims it made in its advertisements and that it takes such accusations "extremely seriously."

"We would never mislead consumers, as a matter of principle," Reckitt Benckiser also said.