Imperial Tobacco, the world’s fourth largest cigarette company by market share, has recently filed nine lawsuits in a US federal court against Lorillard Inc., NJOY, VaporCorp and eight other electronic cigarette makers, claiming intellectual property infringement.
The lawsuits were filed by Fontem Ventures BV, a whole subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco based in Amsterdam, which asked the court to rule that its e-cigarette patents were valid and order the defendants to pay an unspecified amount in damages. “The reason for filing this lawsuit is to protect our intellectual property and seek fair compensation for the infringements of our patents,” said Marc Michelsen, director of communications and corporate ventures at Fontem Ventures.
According to early reports, the lawsuits focus on Fontem’s patents for rechargeable electronic cigarettes, cartridge refill packs, batteries and disposable e-cigarettes. Among the multiple complaints is Blu e-cigs’ claim that its cartridges “are designed to be used only with your blu electronic cigarette and should not be used with any other device or for any other application”.
“Defendant’s continuing infringement has inflicted and, unless restrained by this court, will continue to inflict great and irreparable harm upon the plaintiffs,” the plaintiffs claimed.
The e-cigarette companies targeted by Imperial Tobacco in its legal action include Lorrilard, which owns the popular Blu brand, NJOY, VaporCorp, VMR Products, Logic e-cigarettes, FIN Branding and Victory Electronic Cigarettes, in short, the largest e-cigarette company operating in the United States, both online and offline. FIN e-cigarettes and Lorillard declined to comment on the issue, while the other defendants did not respond to the media’s requests for comment.
So what exactly is Imperial Tobacco basing its copyright infringement lawsuits on? The last time I checked they weren’t the inventors of e-cig technology, Hon Lik was. But this is where things get interesting; although Imperial Tobacco launched its own electronic cigarette, Puritane, just a few weeks ago, they bought the original e-cigarette patents from Hon Lik’s company, Dragonite International, for $75 million, last year.
Back in October 2013, we reported that the father of the modern electronic cigarette was unhappy with the financial rewards he was receiving, despite the success of his invention all around the world. Tired of fighting legal battles with US e-cigarette companies all on his own, Hon Lik teamed up with Imperial Tobacco to finally prevent them from cashing in on his revolutionary invention, or at least get a more sizable piece of the action.
It remains to be seen if the arguments invoked by Imperial Tobacco actually hold out in court, but these recent lawsuits have certainly fired things up a bit in the e-cigarette industry.