Imperial Tobacco Unit Sparks E-Cig Dispute in Patent Suits

An Imperial Tobacco Group Plc unit sued a Lorillard Inc. subsidiary, NJOY Inc., Vapor Corp. and eight other makers of electronic cigarettes in U.S. patent lawsuits alleging they infringed its intellectual property.

Fontem Ventures BV filed nine lawsuits in a federal court in Los Angeles on March 5, according to court filings. It asked the court to rule that its patents were valid and for the defendants to pay as yet unspecified 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 in Amsterdam.

Sales of e-cigarettes, which generate a smoke-like vapor without burning tobacco, may reach $5 billion in the U.S. in 2015, according to analysis by Bloomberg Industries. Imperial Tobacco, which bought Dragonite International Ltd.’s e-cigarette unit for $75 million in September, said it would launch two new products in 2014 as more smokers switch to so-called vaping.

Fontem named Lorillard’s LOEC unit, which makes the blu e-cigarette range, as the defendant in one of the suits. Spokesmen for Lorillard, NJOY and Vapor didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment before normal working hours. The U.S. lawsuits were first reported by the Financial Times today.

Fontem also sued VMR Products LLC, Ballantyne Brands LLC, CB Distributors Inc., Spark Industries LLC, Logic Technology Development LLC, FIN Branding Group LLC, Victory Electronic Cigarettes Corp. and DR Distributors LLC.

The cases are Fontem Ventures B.V. et al v LOEC Inc., United States District Court for the Central District of California (Western Division - Los Angeles): 2:14-cv-01648; Fontem Ventures B.V. et al v NJOY Inc., 2:14-cv-01645; Fontem Ventures B.V. et al v. Vapor Corp., 2:14-cv-01650