LED light bulb maker misled consumers, FTC says

Bedside lampA California light bulb maker has been accused of misleading consumers about the brightness and use expectancy of its LED bulbs in a suit filed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC claims Lights of America Inc. overstated the light output and life expectancy of its light-emitting diode bulbs -- better known as LED light bulbs -- on packages and brochures. The agency also says Lights of America misled consumers about how bright the LED bulbs were compared to incandescent lights. Its bulbs are sold in stores nationwide.

LED lights have become a popular alternative to traditional light bulbs because while they cost more initially, the LED bulbs generally last longer and cost less to power than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.

Lights of America Vice President of Marketing and Sales Brian Halliwell told Consumer Ally the company has been working with the FTC and U.S. Department of Energy for more than a year and changed its packaging in 2009 to reflect new standards in measuring light bulb performance. He said LED bulbs don't have the same light spread as omnidirectional incandescent bulbs -- LED bulbs have a more focused beam -- and that leads to confusion when trying to measure light output.

"We were shocked that they went ahead publicly with a suit," he said, adding the private company has responded to customer feedback and continues to work with the federal agencies. The firm employs about 200 people and assembles its products in this country.

The FTC alleges Lights of America's LED bulbs produced less light, as measured in lumens, than the company claimed in its promotional materials since 2008. For example, one bulb was promoted as producing 90 lumens, but Lights of America's own tests showed it produced only 43 lumens. The FTC complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, also alleges Lights of America exaggerated the use expectancy of its bulbs and pointed to the firm stating that one of its LED recessed bulbs would last 30,000 hours. Independent tests, however, showed that the bulb would not last as long because it lost 80% of its light output after 1,000 hours, the FTC said.

Halliwell said the 30,000 hours use expectancy was the manufacturer's data on part of the product. The company runs its own independent product tests and "all performance ratings can be justified," he said.

The company's owners, President Usman Vakil and Vice President Farooq Vakil, were also named in the federal complaint.

FTC hopes a new labeling rule set to debut in mid-2011 will help consumers pick the appropriate light bulbs for their needs. Light bulb makers will be required to package their bulbs with labels emphasizing the bulbs' brightness in lumens as opposed to measuring watts used.
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