Zippo wins 1st round against Lorillard/Imperial for Blu moniker
A German court in Frankfurt-am-Main has ordered Blu to stop selling its e-cigs online to customers in Germany, since there is a "likelihood of confusion" with the "Blu" line of cigarette lighters made by Zippo, based in Pennsylvnia. This first decision in the web of international lawsuits between the companies will only affect online sale to Germans, since Blu (LOEC, Inc., which operates in Europe as Cygnet UK trading) has not initiated in-store sales in Germany.
Zippo has been making its Blu line of lighters for decades. "I am very pleased that the German court affirmed our legal rights to our intellectual property," said Zippo CEO Gregory Booth. Meanwhile, Robert Bannon, who directs investor relations at Lorillard (which apparently has not yet completed its transfer to Imperial), countered by calling Zippo's lawsuit an "opportunistic trolling tactic," not making it clear how a company's ownership of a trademark for almost a century could be justifiably be called "trolling" (the purchase of patents for products one did not create, and then suing creators for violations of intellectual property rights).
Bannon also sneered at Zippo's flagging sales with the comment, "Zippo has shown it is willing to try to unfairly capitalize on the commercial success of others when it has failed to prevail in the marketplace." Big Tobacco should watch its mouth; cigarette manufacturers are not far behind makers of cigarette lighters in the downward spiral of cigarette-related products.
Zippo has also filed lawsuits in Canada and Mexico, and Sweden rejected Lorillard's trademark application for Blu already, without any lawsuit. The case in the US will come to a head with a jury trial in California in April 2015.
Zippo began the legal battle earlier this year, filing opposition to several Lorillard applications for the Blu name at the US Patent and Trademark Office, threatening to sue. (One wonders why they waited so long, as Blu started to use the name several years before Lorillard bought it in 2012.) Lorillard countered with a lawsuit seeking a court statement that its products do not violate Zippo's intellectual property rights. Zippo responded with a counterclaim against LOEC, and that is the action that will come to a jury trial in next April.
Meanwhile, of course (just in case you've been living in an unwired yurt in Mongolia), Lorillard sold Blu to Britain's Imperial Tobacco as part of a huge juggling of Big Tobacco assets when Lorillard merged with North Carolina neighbor RJ Reynolds.
Meanwhile, other intellectual property lawsuits are afoot as Big Tobacco scrambles to grab everything it can in the vaping supplies industry. Imperial bought Dragonite (formerly Ruyan, the Chinese company that initially marketed Hon Lik's 2003 invention, the first e-cig of the 21st century), and revived a Dragonite lawsuit against Blu (first filed before Lorillard bought Blu) and a number of independent e-cig manufacturers, a lawsuit which is still pending. (Incidentally, if you want an example of genuine intellectual property trolling, THIS is genuine intellectual property trolling.) Meanwhile, US-based Imperial Brands, founded by John Cameron just after his involvement in the collapse of SafeCig last year, acquired the 1963 US patent on Herbert Gilbert's first e-cig, and brought out a cigalike called "1963", while pledging publicly to – well, not to put too fine a point on it – sue the heck out of everybody.
It's a great show, and vapers have a ringside seat, as they relax in their vaping lounges happily vaping their mods. Enjoy!