Juul Files New Round of Suits Against ‘Fake, Copied’ Vape Rivals

Juul Labs Inc. said it’s begun a campaign to stop the “worst offenders” among retailers selling counterfeit e-cigarettes, part of an effort to shore up its bid with regulators to stay in the U.S. market.

The maker of popular vaping devices filed six trademark-infringement lawsuits in five states against shop owners it says are using the Juul name to sell products that are “fake, copied, and non-genuine versions of Juul Products and related packaging.” It said as many as 20 suits will be filed in the next 60 days.

Juul has filed an application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to continue selling its e-cigarettes, which it says help adults transition away from smoking tobacco. The company has come under fire from regulators and politicians, who accuse it of attracting minors who go on to become addicted to the products.

The uproar over teenage vaping has caused Juul’s fortunes to decline. Juul still makes the top-selling e-cigarette in the U.S., but the company’s value has shrunk, it cut jobs, and sales are down after it pulled many of its most popular products. Authorization from the FDA could give the company a needed boost and help remove some of the shadows that have hung over the wider vaping industry.

Marlboro-maker Altria Group Inc. bought a 35% stake in the company in 2018.

Juul in 2019 stopped selling its popular nicotine flavors, including mint and mango, in a bid to prove it doesn’t want minors using its products.

Unauthorized Cartridges

The new legal round follow some four dozen lawsuits filed in July against companies Juul says are copying its patented designs for vaping cartridges. The U.S. International Trade Commission is considering a Juul request to block imports and sales of imported, unauthorized cartridges.

The trademark suits accuse companies of selling counterfeits and “gray market” products, meaning they were made for overseas markets but brought into the U.S. The lawsuits were filed in Alabama, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, and Texas.

The suits are part of Juul’s “global enforcement program directed at disrupting the illicit trade of black-market vapor products to create a more responsible marketplace for current adult users while addressing under-age use,” the company said in a statement.

Salam Murshed, who was sued over sales in August 2019 at his two New Hampshire shops, said he received a letter from Juul a year ago that products brought in from overseas weren’t authorized, and he removed them from his shelves.

“We have a legitimate company and have invoices for everything we buy,” Murshed said. “We’re a retail store -- go find the wholesalers.”

Juul is seeking orders that would halt sales, the profits from the unauthorized sales, and $2 million for each trademark violation.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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