JUUL Labs announced today that it has filed trademark claims against 30 unspecified Chinese business entities that have sold counterfeit JUUL pods and devices. A federal district court granted JUUL’s request for a temporary restraining order, and froze some American assets of the clone sellers.
The civil action was filed Aug. 24 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The complaint was sealed per JUUL Labs’ request, to prevent the defendants from withdrawing money from their American PayPal accounts before the funds could be frozen.
“Seeking to both free ride on Juul’s success and misappropriate Juul’s marketplace identity,” says the legal complaint, “Defendants create hundreds of online stores and auctions, misleadingly designing them to appear as selling genuine JUUL Pods, while instead selling Counterfeit Juul Pods, containing unregulated ingredients, to unknowing consumers.”
“This filing represents the continued commitment of the Company to keep fake JUUL products off the market in an effort to protect consumers and combat underage use,” JUUL Labs said today in a press release.
In the legal filing, JUUL says that “the manufacturer or source of Defendants’ product remains a mystery.” Intellectual property theft and cloned products are common problems for companies that manufacture products in Chinese factories. There have even been stories of factories making legitimate products under contract, and at the same time producing clones of the same device.
JUUL Labs so far only makes and sells a single device, though the company has announced a new JUUL device with Bluetooth capability will be available next year. That probably makes them especially vulnerable to counterfeiting operations.
As JUUL Labs notes in its filing, the unauthorized JUUL copies may not be as safe and reliable as the legitimate JUUL device. But making a workable vape that superficially looks like a JUUL is clearly not difficult. They are then sold in online marketplaces like eBay, with questionable age verification practices by the sellers.
JUUL says it has worked with online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to take down more than 16,000 listings since January. JUUL promises further actions to protect its property and reputation — and, of course, youth — from counterfeit JUULs and unauthorized sellers.
Tobacco control activists and some crusading politicians like Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey have demanded that JUUL take responsibility not just for their own marketing but also the actions of other companies that use JUUL’s trademarks and name and sell vaping products to minors. The legal action announced today may be an effort to satisfy those critics.
“Counterfeit products pose significant risk to the public, and we are taking swift action to stop those who are selling fake JUUL products without age verification,” said JUUL Labs chief legal officer Gerald Masoudi. “We will do everything in our power to restrict counterfeiters from flooding the market with fake product to protect consumers and combat underage use.”
JUUL Labs has been accused of marketing its products to underage users, and has taken every opportunity to show its concern over youth vaping. The company announced its support for Tobacco 21 laws earlier this year, and has committed $30 million toward efforts to reduce youth use of JUUL. Tobacco 21 laws usually include vapor products in the list of “tobacco products” that are prohibited. Most vaping advocates and businesses oppose such laws, since they limit options for adults under 21.