Invisalign purchasers today filed a class-action lawsuit against the maker of Invisalign, Align Technology Inc., accusing it of a nationwide scheme to monopolize the market for aligners, affecting consumers since at least 2017, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman.
The lawsuit was filed May 3, 2021, in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California and accuses Align of violating federal antitrust laws and various consumer protection laws by monopolizing the dental aligner market, controlling more than 90 percent, and using a variety of anticompetitive tactics to prevent alternatives to Invisalign Aligners from being sold. For example, Align refused to allow rival scanner manufacturers to order Invisalign. Attorneys say Align “…sacrificed short term profits to cement a long term monopoly that would allow them to overcharge consumers in perpetuity.”
“There’s a reason why the average consumer hasn’t heard of Invisalign’s competitors: Align has used its control of aligners and dental scanners to self-reinforce its market dominance in both markets,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney for consumers in the class action. “Align’s anticompetitive tactics have sustained its monopoly since at least 2017 and has led consumers to overpay for Invisalign, and we believe at $8,000 a pop, Align has a large debt to settle with its customers.”
“Align’s monopoly on the teeth-straightening market has been all crooked,” Berman added.
Crooked Antitrust in the Teeth Aligner Market
Invisalign aligners generally cost up to $8,000, which is incorporated into the prices that dentists charge for Invisalign treatment. Dental insurance, if it is available, generally only covers a minority portion, capping benefits at 25-50%, leaving consumer purchasers to pay remaining costs out-of-pocket. Align earns well over a billion dollars per year selling Invisalign products at gross margins exceeding 75%. It continues to raise prices annually, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that for many years, Align was able to charge high prices and earn high profit margins on Invisalign because the product was protected by a “thicket of hundreds of patents that Align wielded aggressively to protect its monopoly.”
“…Align CEO Joe Hogan stated in 2017: We’ve been in business now for almost 20 years, and we’ve had so few competitors and people think it’s because we have this great IP, it’s true we have good intellectual property, but it took 15 years for people to really believe that you can move teeth with plastics[.] … It gave us this period of time to really iterate and learn without the outside influence of other competitors coming in,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says Align also used its power to manipulate the market of hand-held digital intraoral scanners, used by dental offices to take digital images of the jaws, teeth, and bite of a patient. These digital images are then used by aligner manufacturers to create individualized Aligners for patients. During the course of a treatment, patients will generally take regular scans and have a series of individual Aligners manufactured for their usage.
Align sells a scanner product called the iTero, which unlike its competitor uses a closed system, imposing substantial costs on dentists who attempt to use the iTero for ordering Aligners that are not manufactured by Align, driving sales of Invisalign.
Align used a variety of anticompetitive tactics against a rival scanner manufacturer – ensuring that only its scanner was in dental offices, which meant that only Invisalign Aligners would be ordered. Because of this anticompetitive scheme, Align was able to overcharge consumers who purchased Invisalign Aligners – usually paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for the expensive treatment.
The lawsuit says this scheme creates “a self-reinforcing cycle where Align’s dominance of the Scanner market ensured continued dominance of the Aligner market.”
“In its established and highly protected system, one hand washes the other, reinforcing Align’s dominance in these markets that leave consumers and dental offices trapped,” Berman said.
Consumers seek repayment for the amount they overpaid for Invisalign due to Align’s monopoly, as well as injunctive relief to bring an end to Align’s price-fixing scheme.
Antitrust Track Record
Hagens Berman’s legal team has an extensive track record of taking on massive antitrust cases and obtaining settlements for classes of millions of people.
Among the firm’s record-breaking antitrust cases are a $560 million collective settlement against Apple and publishing companies for price-fixing e-books; a $470 million settlement against electronics makers for price-fixing in the LCD market; a $345 million settlement for consumers against manufacturers of computer memory, a $169 million collective settlement against Disney, Dreamworks and other studios on behalf of animators; a $150 million settlement involving Flonase antitrust; a $98 million settlement on behalf of purchasers of the drug Prograf; a $73 million settlement on behalf of purchasers of Pfizer’s drug Skelaxin; among many other pharma-related and consumer-focused settlements.
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with 10 offices worldwide. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.