Lawsuits Shouldn’t Threaten Consumer Choice

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Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and tens of thousands have died from COVID-19. If America is to make a speedy recovery from our pandemic recession, we can ill afford big corporations filing lawsuits that are intended to run competitors out of the market.

Frivolous lawsuits hurt every American. They increase the cost of everything we purchase. Unnecessary, excessive lawsuits limit consumer choice, and 79% of American voters see the number of frivolous lawsuits as a problem.

Alcon, the largest eye care device company in the world, has filed trademark infringement lawsuits against the nation’s second largest online contact lens discounter. Legal actions pursued not to defend Alcon’s property rights or to protect its customers. No, on the contrary, these lawsuits are meant to cripple Alcon’s competition, and force them into licensing agreements that will actually harm lens wearers. The alleged trademark issue is about packaging, not the actual contacts. Alcon’s lawsuit is over a triviality while their real goal is to make online discounters buy 100% of their lenses from Alcon at artificially high prices so lenses can no longer be sold at a discount. That will drive-up prices for millions of consumers.  

There is a high cost of lawsuit abuse. If your family is like most others, access to affordable medical care and healthcare products is a major concern right now. For more than a year, the pandemic has forced Americans to delay medical treatments, put off doctor visits, and postpone essential purchases.

Are contact lenses essential? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45 million Americans wear contact lenses. What’s more the CDC says that “being able to see well, for most, is essential. Good vision contributes to overall well-being and independence for people of all ages.” And for people with imperfect but correctable vision, contact lenses are an important option to improve eyesight. So, let’s follow the science here, and the science is clear: contact lenses are essential.

Alcon—a company based in Fort Worth, Texas—is not litigating over FDA violations or concerns over intellectual property infringement. In fact, no one disputes that Alcon’s online competitors are selling legitimate, FDA approved contact lenses. However, these online stores are beating Alcon’s prices. That’s the real problem, not for consumers but for Alcon.

The CDC tells us that “wearing contact lenses has many potential benefits.” High costs and limited access are real barriers to these potential benefits. In the current political environment, policy debates are too often reduced to ‘Left v. Right’ or ‘Democrats v. Republicans’. However, for consumers looking for a break after a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad” year the public discussion should be consumer-focused—i.e., we should be talking about the right price at the right time for the right consumer.

Big corporations and Wall Street are coming out of the COVID pandemic in pretty good economic shape. The same can’t be said for many working-class Americans and small businesses. Now is not the time for big companies, like Alcon, to be limiting choices and boosting prices, especially for kids who need contacts lenses. According to the CDC, “Children may experience benefits of contact lens wear beyond seeing better. Wearing contact lenses may improve children’s perceptions of their physical appearance compared with wearing glasses and increase their confidence both in social interactions and in their ability to participate in athletic activities.”

Alcon’s frivolous lawsuit against online sellers is putting profits over people at a time when we’re all getting over the worst pandemic in a hundred years.

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