Warby Parker, the e-commerce eyeglasses company, has been accused in a lawsuit of duping a startup that created an online eye vision test system to reveal its trade secrets so Warby Parker could create its own competing remote refraction test.
The lawsuit, which was made public on Monday and reported on by TechCrunch, was filed on behalf of Chicago-based tech startup Opternative. The lawsuit alleges that Opternative started developing the technology for its online refraction tests in 2013 and received multiple patents in 2016. When the technology was still being developed, Warby Parker solicited "confidential and trade secret information" from Opternative after signing non-disclosure agreements so the two companies could explore a "potential for a partnership and/or an acquisition," the lawsuit alleges.
Against the backdrop of a potential deal and after Warby Parker signed two more NDAs, Optnerative demonstrated its online refraction test and allowed Warby Parker to preform its own tests on the platform. Opternative also claims it provided raw data from the refraction tests, information about its clinical trials and registration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and its operating expenses with Warby Parker.
The lawsuit alleges Warby Parker used the proprietary information and trade secrets to assess the market for online vision tests before developing its own product, the Prescription Check app, which launched in May 2017. Opternative claims Warby Parker's patented product is "derivative" of its own patented system.
Warby Parker's Prescription Check smartphone app allows users whose vision was unchanged since the last time they received an eyeglasses prescription to take a vision test on their computer while at home. The test asks users to place a credit card or driver's license in the corner of the computer screen and point their phone's camera at it to determine the computer screen size and display correctly sized images before the test starts. After paying $40, the test results are sent to a licensed eye doctor and the user will receive a new prescription in 24 hours. Warby Parker was awarded a patent related to the platform in 2017.
Opternative's vision test asks users to remove their shoes and take a certain number of heel-to-toe steps away from their computer depending on their shoe size to determine the correct distance from the computer screen before taking the vision test. Opternative has been awarded three patents related to the online refraction system in 2016.
Barry Irwin, the founding partner of intellectual property law firm Irwin IP and the lead attorney representing Opternative, describes Warby Parker's behavior as "egregious."
Warby Parker, in a statement, casts the allegations off as frivolous.
"The preposterous claims made by Opternative do not accurately reflect reality, and we're prepared to take all necessary steps to defeat them," Warby Parker said. "This is an unfortunate example of a company choosing to address competition with litigation instead of innovation."
Warby Parker said it gave Opternative the "opportunity" to demonstrate its product, but it failed.
"Ultimately, they failed to meet [our] standards, and we determined that the product and user experience were unfit for our customers," Warby Parker said. "Opternative is now trying to correct those failures through meritless litigation."
Warby Parker must submit a response or a motion by November 6. The next court date will be scheduled for a future date on November 10.