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Suppliers Wrangle Over Patents

The competition among major appliance manufacturers is heating up away from the retail floor as well as on it: Whirlpool recently sued General Electric in Canada, charging patent infringement, and Maytag has [text]challenged Whirlpool’s ad claims.

In a suit filed in Mississauga, Ontario late last month, Whirlpool and Inglis Ltd., its wholly owned Canadian affiliate, charge that nine GE Profile, GE and Hotpoint washers built by GE and marketed and distributed by Camco, GE’s Canadian affiliate (51% owned by GE), violate Canadian patents held by Whirlpool.

The suit alleges that agitators in the washers infringe on two Canadian patents issued in 1979 and 1981.

Both Whirlpool and GE told TWICE the lawsuit covers only washers sold in Canada, not products sold in U.S. stores. The units were introduced by GE and Camco in June and have been on sale in both countries since late summer.

The Whirlpool suit asks for a temporary injunction against the sale of the GE washers in Canada, and for damages.

Whirlpool said it first patented the two-way agitator in question in the U.S. in the mid-1970s and later obtained other patents for the original design and subsequent improvements in several other countries. The earliest U.S. patents expired in 1993; the second Canadian patent is in effect until 1998.

An Inglis spokeswoman said the two companies approached GE with their concerns before the lawsuit was filed, but could not reach an agreement. “It’s a key part of our business, and obviously something we’re very interested about protecting,” she said.

In a prepared statement GE said, “We’re absolutely confident that we can and will successfully defend GE” against the infringement allegations, “which we sincerely and strongly dispute.”

Nothing is expected to be resolved in the case for several months, a spokesperson for Whirlpool in the U.S. told TWICE.

Meanwhile, Whirlpool’s advertising claims in this country about its washers’ reliability were the subject of a recent inquiry by the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council Of Better Business Bureaus.

The NAD inquiry was sparked by a challenge by Maytag of the truth and accuracy of Whirlpool’s ads, including the depiction of dirty Maytag and GE serviceman shirts vs. a clean Whirlpool serviceman’s shirt and a claim of superior repair history.

In its counter, Whirlpool explained how research cited in the ad was conducted and of what the clean shirt/dirty shirt image was intended to convey.

The images “were meant to portray in a pictorial manner the fact that a service person who is not required to make as many service calls due to the lower incidence [of service calls] would normally have a cleaner shirt,” the company said.

Whirlpool also noted that the shirts were not intended to represent actual washing results. But after studying the print and radio ads and both companies’ contentions, the NAD recommended that Whirlpool modify or discontinue that advertising, noting some material in the ads was “potentially misleading,” although some other claims were substantiated.

In a statement following the NAD decision, Whirlpool said it “respectfully disagrees” with the findings. The company noted that the radio commercial in question completed its airing in September and the print ad completes its run this month.

“We have no plans to use either again,” Whirlpool said, noting it will “consider the NAD’s views carefully in the creation of future advertising.”

Modest Major Appliance Uptick Is In AHAM ’96 Shipment Outlook

A very modestly improved picture of appliance industry performance for next year is contained in the latest revised forecast for factory shipments just issued by AHAM.

The prediction for a 0.9% increase in total 1996 industry major appliance shipments to just under 52.8 million, represents a 0.1% improvement on the outlook AHAM had last June.

For core appliances (washers, dryers, ranges, dishwashers and refrigerators) the prediction for a 1.6% shipment increase next year to 32.3 million is an improvement of 0.2% from the June outlook. At the same time, the new prediction for non-core product shipments of 20.5 million is essentially flat against the estimate for this year’s performance and off sub-fractionally from the June forecast.

Compared with the outlook issued last June, the new forecast for 1996 has 1% to 2% improved outlooks for shipments of freestanding, built-in and total gas ranges, electric dryers, refrigerators, upright freezers and room air conditioners. A pickup of at least a half of a percentage point is in the revised forecasts for shipments of freestanding electric ranges, electric surface cooktops and built-in dishwashers.

On the other side, significant declines from June are in the new shipment forecasts for built-in electric ranges, washing machines, gas dryers, portable dishwashers and dehumidifiers.

Although the forecast for 1996 shipments reflects a pickup from the million-plus unit falloff being anticipated for 1995, it still sees the market falling short of the all-time shipment high hit in 1994.◊[text]Whirlpool has developed what it calls its quietest-ever washer, along with a new dryer said to “drastically reduce” the need to clean the lint filter.

A new design for the Quiet Wash washer, model LSL9355, includes: a sound-absorbing insulation pad at the bottom of the washer to reduce agitation noise; sound-dampening pads to insulate front and side panels to restrict tub vibrations; a flapper pump that closes to eliminate water sounds; and a smooth drain hose to help muffle draining sounds.

The design improvements “significantly reduce washer noise,” says Sam Abdelnour, director of marketing, Whirlpool cleaning products.

With the new Easy Clean 100 dryer, Whirlpool says consumers can dry up to 100 loads without cleaning the lint filter.

During operation, a centrifugal separator in the dryer’s air duct removes lint from moisture-laden air and directs it to the top of the dryer for storage in a lint basket. When the time comes to empty the basket, it is removable with a handle, so consumers don’t have to touch the lint.

Abdelnour says Whirlpool research shows that “lint removal is a major issue with many consumers,” and many women are reluctant to let other family members do the laundry because they’re afraid the lint filter won’t get cleaned when needed.

Product 1994 1995 % 1996 %

Actual Forecast Change Forecast Change

ALL MAJOR APPLIANCES 53,483 52,332 -2.2 52,785 0.9

COOKING, TOTAL 16,079 15,756 -2.0 15,965 1.3

ELECTRIC RANGE, TOTAL 4,171 4,050 -2.9 4,070 0.5

Freestanding 3,025 2,952 -2.4 2,991 1.3

Built-in 700 663 -5.3 643 -3.0

Surface Cooking Units 446 434 -2.8 436 0.5

GAS RANGE, TOTAL 2,959 2,892 -2.3 2,930 1.3

Freestanding 2,534 2,473 -2.4 2,508 1.4

Built-in 88 90 2.9 89 -1.1

Surface Cooking Units 337 328 -2.7 333 1.5

MICROWAVE OVENS 8,949 8,815 -1.5 8,965 1.7

HOME LAUNDRY, TOTAL 12,374 11,917 -3.7 12,165 2.1

WASHERS, TOTAL 7,035 6,804 -3.3 6,921 1.7

DRYERS, TOTAL 5,339 5,112 -4.2 5,244 2.6

Electric 4,036 3,940 -2.4 4,019 2.0

Gas 1,303 1,172 -10.1 1,225 4.5

KITCHEN CLEANUP, TOTAL 9,509 9,212 -3.1 9,356 1.6

DISPOSERS 4,798 4,686 -2.3 4,724 0.8

DISHWASHERS, TOTAL 4,580 4,406 -3.8 4,505 2.2

Built-in 4,326 4,182 -3.3 4,275 2.2

Portable 254 224 -11.9 230 2.7

COMPACTORS 130 121 -7.2 127 5.0

FOOD PRESERVATION, TOTAL 10,342 10,206 -1.3 10,321 1.1

REFRIGERATORS 8,652 8,531 -1.4 8,624 1.1

FREEZERS, TOTAL 1,691 1,675 -0.9 1,697 1.3

Chest 959 947 -1.3 956 1.0

Upright 732 728 -0.5 741 1.8

HOME COMFORT, TOTAL 5,179 5,241 1.2 4,978 -5.0

ROOM AIR CONDITIONERS 4,120 4,270 3.6 3,990 -6.6

DEHUMIDIFIERS 1,059 971 -8.3 988 1.8

Nothing is expected to be resolved for several months.