April 11, 2005

Sharper Image / Consumer Reports Lawsuit settled

Last November, I wrote about a lawsuit against Consumer Reports filed by Sharper Image which didn't like CU's reporting that their Ionic Breeze Air Cleaners were, in a word, worthless... The current issue of Consumer Reports magazine has this little tidbit:
Sharper Image pays $525,000 to end lawsuit against CU
Sharper Image Corp. has ended a product-disparagement lawsuit that it brought against Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, paying CU court-ordered attorneys’ fees and costs totaling $525,000.

Sharper Image sued after Consumer Reports judged the company’s Ionic Breeze Quadra air cleaner “ineffective” in an October 2003 report. A U.S. District Court dismissed the suit, ruling that Sharper Image had not shown our findings to be false. Because Sharper Image’s claims affected CR’s rights of free speech and press, the court ordered the company to pay our legal expenses. Sharper Image filed an appeal but later withdrew it, ending the legal action.

"Sharper Image’s decision to withdraw its appeal puts an end to a lawsuit that should never have been filed, over reviews that were truthful, carefully researched, and fairly stated," said Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union. "This is a victory for every American concerned about the rights of an unbiased organization to test products independently, and to speak out in the interest of product performance and quality."
Heh... And lets look at the Sharper Image Website Lots of great testimonials but nothing quantitative, all subjective. And they are still selling them for over $400 each -- not bad for a nice plastic case ($8), a fan and speed controller ($12), a solid-state HV supply ($6) and some metal electrodes ($3)... Consumer reports gave it some very specific real-world tests to do (fill a room with cigarette smoke, turn on the cleaner and measure what happens -- repeat with fine particulates, etc...) The plain fact that The Sharper Image did not appeal the decision and decided instead to fold and pay up the half-million in legal fees indicates that they do not have a leg to stand on. If The Sharper Image had been able to find an independent, bonded testing lab to repeat the tests and provide vindication, they would have. The simplest solution for this paradox is that the units do not work -- they are a perfect example of the Placebo effect magnified by the fact that people are being charged over $400 each for the units. Nobody will willingly admit that they spent this much on a placebo. Posted by DaveH at April 11, 2005 10:48 PM