Go Smile sues founder over teeth-whitening trademarks

2009 12 03 14 54 58 936 Smile 70

Go Smile has filed two lawsuits against its founder, Jonathan B. Levine, DMD, alleging that his use of trademarks for a line of home-based teeth-whitening products are "confusingly similar" to Go Smiles' and that he violated a noncompete agreement.

Dr. Levine, who practices in New York, counts celebrities such as Christie Brinkley among his clients and has appeared on the Dr. Oz television show. He cofounded Go Smile in 2002 with his wife, Stacey Levine, who is also named in the lawsuits.

Although Dr. Levine sold the majority of his interest in Go Smile in 2003, he remained actively involved in the company and was the "face" of Go Smile until he sold his remaining shares in 2008.

Between 2002 and April 2008, Go Smile promoted the association between Dr. Levine and the products it sold under the Go-based trademarks, and as a result consumers developed a strong association between the products and Dr. Levine as the dentist behind the brand, according to court documents.

Go Smile sells a variety of teeth-whitening and oral care products for home use and owns a significant portfolio of Go-based trademarks that combine "Go" with various forms of "Smile" and "White."

'Confusingly similar'

In August 2010, Go Smile launched an at-home teeth-whitening light device using its trademarked "Go" slogan on the QVC shopping channel. Now the company has learned that Dr. Levine is planning to launch a competing at-home light-based device for teeth whitening under a "GLO" (guided light optics)-based family of trademarks. The competing product line could launch as soon as this month, according to Go Smile.

Dr. Levine's trademarks are "confusingly similar" to those used by Go Smile and infringe their "Go"-based trademarks, according to a federal complaint filed by Go Smile. As part of the company sale in 2008, Dr. Levine voluntarily gave up any right to use Go Smile's trademarks and signed an agreement not to compete with the company for a period of time, the court documents state.

Go Smile believes Dr. Levine's use of GLO is likely to mislead consumers into believing his products are Go Smile products, especially since Levine was the public face of the company for many years.

Go Smile also alleges that Dr. Levine has been marketing the competing light device to retailers such as HSN, QVC, and Sephora, and describes confusion already occurring in the marketplace by those who mistakenly believe that Dr. Levine's light device is a Go Smile product. The company claims that Dr. Levine intentionally chose similar trademarks to capitalize on its reputation for quality teeth-whitening products.

Go Smile also accuses of Dr. Levine and his wife of breaching their noncompete obligations by conspiring personally and through their practice, Levine PC, to secretly compete against Go Smile. While filing a patent application for his products, Dr. Levine allegedly instructed counsel to file only U.S. patent applications rather than foreign applications, which are a matter of public record, to prevent the discovery of his breach of his noncompete obligations, Go Smile alleges.

As a result of Sephora's interest in Dr. Levine's new venture and products, Sephora terminated discussions with Go Smile about its teeth-whitening products in December 2008, according to the lawsuit.

Dr. Levine's office had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.

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