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Juul wants regulators to order 18 companies to stop selling e-cigarettes that Juul claims infringe on its patents.
The company filed a complaint Wednesday with the U.S. International Trade Commission alleging these companies "blatantly emulated the distinctive design" of Juul's system. Juul wants the agency to prevent these products from being imported, distributed, sold and marketed in the U.S.
This is Juul's latest attempt to control a proliferation of lookalike products that have entered the market since it launched its e-cigarette 2015. In August, Juul filed trademark lawsuits against 30 Chinese companies for selling counterfeit products on eBay.
The move comes as Juul tries to convince regulators it can control the surge in teens using its products. Food and Drug Administration officials recently seized more than 1,000 pages of documents in a surprise inspection of e-cigarette maker Juul's San Francisco headquarters. The agency has also ordered Juul and four other e-cigarette manufacturers submit plans within 60 days to control youth use.
"Protecting consumers and preventing underage use are critical priorities, and we will take decisive action where available to restrict illegal copy-cat products that undermine our efforts," Juul CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.
A Juul looks like a trendy piece of technology, not a clunky contraption or a mock cigarette like some other e-cigarettes. The device is about as long as a palm of a hand. It's thinner than an iPhone and weighs even less. To use it, a person simply snaps on a pod filled with nicotine liquid and inhales.
The company says in contrast to itself, new entrants "make only half-hearted attempts, if any," to prevent youth use. However, Juul finds itself is facing criticism for its role in a surge of teen e-cigarette use, which the FDA recently labeled an "epidemic."
Critics say Juul's fruit flavors like creme, formerly known as creme brulee, attract kids to its products. Yet Juul said in its complaint that many of the companies in question sell nicotine pods in flavors that have "obvious, if not deliberate, youth appeal, such as 'Bubble Bubble,' 'Apple Juice, 'Pineapple Crush,' 'Citrus Burst, 'Sour Gummy' and 'Strawberry Milk."'
Juul is the clear market leader, controlling about three-quarters of the e-cigarette market.