Nitpicking or infringement? Companies in patent fight over head lice treatment.

A Charlotte-based medical clinic specializing in the treatment of head lice is accused of unlawfully copying a patented device used to fight the pests.
A Charlotte-based medical clinic specializing in the treatment of head lice is accused of unlawfully copying a patented device used to fight the pests. KIRK LYTTLE - MCT

In what may be literally described as a court fight over nitpicking, two Charlotte companies are at the center of a patent dispute concerning the treatment of head lice.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week, Pediatric Hair Solutions Corp. and partner FloSonix Ventures LLC, which share the same south Charlotte address, stand accused of illegally copying a patented technology that involves the shooting of hot air onto the scalp to eradicate the pests.

The tool, originally developed by scientists at the University of Utah, was first marketed, colorfully, as "the LouseBuster." It now goes by the more gentrified "AirAlle'," and is built and sold by Larada Sciences Inc. of Murray, Utah.

Larada says it received protective patents on its device dating back to 2010. Now it's accusing Pediatric Hair Solutions, which bills itself as the Carolinas' only licensed medical provider for head-lice treatment, of infringing upon those patents.

Pediatric's Owner, Sheila Fasser, said during a Thursday phone interview that the allegations are baseless.

"I vehemently deny I copied anything," she said before referring additional questions to her attorney.

According to lawsuit, Larada developed its breakthrough technology more than a decade ago. The company claims that the original LouseBuster was the first lice treatment that did not involve either the use of harsh chemicals, to which the critters have developed a resistance and many patients remain averse; or the time-honored ritual of nitpicking, in which the tiny lice eggs — known as nits — are manually and painstakingly removed from their moorings near the scalp.

Business appears to be booming due to a simple fact. Despite decades of medical advances, head lice keep hanging on. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that up to 12 million infestations occur every year among U.S. children ages 3 to 11.

The pests can spread through homes or classrooms with the touch of an infected head. Once established, females lay up to six eggs a day. Once hatched and hooked in with the use of its claws, a louse can live for up to 30 days, feeding on its host's blood.

Larada says it has more than 250 license and franchise agreements across the United States, with 200 clinics using the AirAlle' to treat patients.

Pediatric Hair Solutions was among those clients, the lawsuit says. Fassler even appeared in a 2012 YouTube video extolling the safety and effectiveness of the LouseBuster, describing it as "the final solution" to lice infestation, the lawsuit says.

In its complaint, Larada alleges that the Charlotte firm used Larada expertise and technology to build a lice-treatment practice that grew to nine clinics — including eight in the Carolinas — by 2017.

That all began to change in March of that year, the lawsuit says. First, Larada severed the lease agreement with Fassler's company when Pediatric Hair Solutions stopped making its AirAlle' lease payments, the lawsuit says. That same year, the Charlotte clinic began advertising a "very similar" device on its website called "the FloSonix."

As with the AirAlle', the FloSonix shoots hot air of up to 200 degrees to clear an infected area. The Pediatric Hair Solutions website says that its treatment combining a liquid solution to kill live bugs followed by a hot air treatment to wipe out the eggs is 99 percent effective. The site also include a prominent photograph of the FloSonix in action.

The lawsuit claims the Charlotte defendants developed, manufactured and marketed their knock-off device while "recklessly disregarding" Larada's existing patents.

The Utah company is asking the courts for triple damages and a jury trial. It also wants wants the Charlotte companies to "destroy or deliver" all the products, documents and marketing plans that may be violating Larada's patents.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS