The complaint, prepared by Washington, D.C. law firm Sterne Kessler on behalf of JUUL Labs, requests that the ITC “prevent the continued importation, distribution, selling, and marketing of the identified products in the United States.”
“The ITC action is part of Juul Labs’ global efforts to defend the company’s intellectual property from infringers, and also serves an important role in the company’s effort to combat illegal underage use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) products,” JUUL announced Thursday.
“The ITC complaint alleges that over 15 entities, based in China, the United States, and France, blatantly develop and sell products based on Juul Labs’ patented technology.”
The complaint names multiple respondents, responsible for a variety of devices and pods JUUL claims infringed its patents in an attempt to grab some of the market JUUL has grown so rapidly in its three-year history. “In contrast to [JUUL Labs], Respondents are mostly bit players and recent entrants in the ENDS market. Seeing an opportunity to capture some of [JUUL Labs’] success with minimal investment, Respondents blatantly emulated the distinctive design of the JUUL system,” JUUL alleges.
The devices named in the complaint are:
JUUL’s British subsidiary also filed a similar action in the U.K. against one of the alleged patent violators, the French maker of the Bo pod system.
“Intellectual property laws protect both innovation and consumers,” said JUUL Labs’ chief legal officer Gerald Masoudi. “Although we welcome legitimate competition, we will continue to utilize every legal option available to us to keep copy-cat and illegal counterfeit products off the market. Juul Labs believes that such products infringe our intellectual property and, in many cases, may present risks to consumers in terms of quality and underage access.”
Last month, JUUL Labs filed trademark claims against 30 business entities selling copycat JUUL devices and fake JUUL pods. As part of that civil action, a federal district court in Virginia granted JUUL’s request for a temporary restraining order, and froze some U.S. assets of the defendants.
In addition to defending its intellectual property, JUUL alleges that the other devices have questionable manufacturing standards, and may be sold without strict age verification. They also claim that their competitors’ products “include inappropriate flavors, seemingly directed to attract underage users.”
How JUUL’s lawyers have determined that one flavor is more attractive to teenagers than another is a mystery, unless they’re simply adopting the logic of tobacco control groups and politicians who would like to ban all flavors. They might be better served by staying in their patent lane and not trying to score points with the FDA by impugning the motives of other e-liquid manufacturers — especially since JUUL’s own mango and mint flavors are among the most popular on the market among all age groups.
JUUL has already said publicly that eliminating flavors from its products is “on the table,” as the company grapples with an order from the FDA to produce a plan to prevent youth use of its products. JUUL probably depends less on flavors than the open-systems portion of the U.S. vaping market, for which a flavor ban would deliver an immediate death sentence.