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July 3, 2023

Pod Wars! Juul Sues NJOY for Patent Infringement

Aug. 1 update
The U.S. International Trade Commission voted today in favor of conducting an investigation based on Juul Labs' complaint. The ITC will announce a target date for completing the investigation within 45 days.

Last Friday, Juul Labs filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC) and a lawsuit in a federal district court, both alleging infringement of Juul patents by the NJOY Ace pod vape. The complaints name NJOY and its new corporate parent Altria Group.

Juul is asking the ITC to investigate the patent complaints and, according to a Juul press release, requesting that “the Commission block the continued importation and sale of the violative products in the United States.”

The exact patent infringement allegations are not known. In a summary of the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, Law.com says Juul Labs and VMR Products (a Juul subsidiary) charge infringement of “five patents associated with ‘JUULpod’ cartridges.” The ITC docket is less specific, noting only that Juul Labs has requested an investigation “regarding certain vaporizer devices, cartridges used therewith, and components thereof.”

The NJOY Ace is a pod-based vape that, like Juul Labs’ JUUL device, uses prefilled pods containing high-strength nicotine salt e-liquid. Unlike the JUUL, however, the NJOY Ace received marketing authorization from the FDA, along with three tobacco-flavored pods.

Despite its FDA authorization, NJOY has struggled to effectively promote and distribute the Ace, and it remains far behind the JUUL and the market-leading Vuse Alto in the convenience store pod vape sales race. However, a green light from the FDA made NJOY (which also has marketing authorization for two versions of its disposable NJOY Daily) an attractive target for Altria Group, which bought NJOY for $2.75 billion just three days after dumping its minority ownership in Juul Labs.

Pods for both the NJOY Ace and Vuse Alto use heating components designed by FEELM, the atomization division of Chinese vape giant Smoore. Smoore, which became a publicly traded company in 2020, was not named in either of Juul’s legal complaints against NJOY.

Juul Labs has filed three successful ITC patent and trademark complaints against competitors, but the targets of those actions were much smaller companies making copies of Juul products or selling “Juul-compatible” pods. NJOY, with Altria’s backing, will probably be a more formidable legal opponent.

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy
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