Juul Labs is suing four more companies trying to ride Juul’s coattails to profit. Their suit, the latest case in a string of lawsuits filed by the vaping giant, alleges that four New Jersey-based companies — one of them called Juul Monster — infringed on Juul’s trademarks. Part of the suit revolves around the use of a cartoon logo, also called the Juul Monster.
Juul filed the suit Thursday against Juul Monster, K&R Products, Status Distribution, and Status Vapes, as well as people associated with the companies. The suit alleges that the defendants use the names “Juul Monster,” “Juul Mega Store,” and a cartoon Juul Monster logo to market a variety of pods and vapes, including but not limited to Juul products.
The Juul Monster logo, which Juul Monster tried to trademark, shows a little monster puffing on a Juul. (The monster apparently sometimes wears holiday accessories like a Santa hat, or reindeer antlers.) In the complaint, Juul says the logo could be bad for Juul’s reputation because of its potential appeal to underage vapers: “The monster’s small stature and impish expression also suggests that the character is himself a rebellious child or teen that enjoys using the product.”
What’s worse, from Juul’s perspective, is that pods made by other companies and marketed by the Juul Monster come in kid friendly-flavors, like “green apple hard candy” and “berry lemonade.” Juul has been criticized for its social-media marketing strategy. ad campaigns, and flavors that appeal to young people. In November, the company announced that it had cut its supply of fruity or desert-flavored pods to stores. Juul also pledged to amp up its age verification measures, and increase the number of undercover shoppers who investigate whether retailers are following the rules.
While Juul stayed on Twitter for “non-promotional communications only,” the company went quiet on its Facebook and Instagram accounts. “Since then, we have caught other companies aggressively and illegally selling counterfeit or unauthorized Juul-compatible nicotine cartridges that are often unregulated and potentially targeted at youth,” Wayne Sobon, vice president of Intellectual Property at Juul Labs, said in a statement text-messaged to The Verge.
Even though Juul is no longer actively advertising on Facebook or Instagram, retailers using the Juul Monster branding have been. “The use of social media is also aimed at younger consumers,” the lawsuit says, “in contrast, [Juul] voluntarily shut down its social media accounts as part of its continued efforts to prevent any appearance of promotion of its products to an underage audience.”
The Verge’s attempts to contact the defendants were unsuccessful. A person answering a phone call placed to the number found on the Juul Monster Facebook page said we had the wrong number. This person hung up without identifying themselves. A follow-up call to that number got a recorded voicemail that said “Hi, you’ve reached Ryan with Hotpodz. Please leave your name and phone number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” (Hotpodz is not named as a defendant, but is mentioned in the suit for also marketing with the Juul Monster branding.)
The individuals named in the suit include Ryan Doka, Craig Doka, and James Doka. A person answering a phone call placed to a number listed for all three of them said that the business was no longer at that number. A man answering the phone at Status Vapes sounded surprised that the company was being sued, and said he would pass a message along to his boss. Contact information for defendants K & R Products, Status Distribution, Jaclyn Quinto wasn’t immediately obvious. A voicemail left at a number listed for defendant Kristen Vanorski was not returned.
The complaint includes claims of cybersquatting by the defendants, which Juul alleges were selling vape products from juulmonster.com and juulmegastore.com. (Both sites have been taken down.) The lawsuit is part of Juul’s ongoing campaign to crack down on companies marketing potentially risky knockoffs or counterfeits that could damage Juul’s reputation, and cut into its bottom line. “These products could undermine public health and the efforts of all of us who are trying to keep nicotine delivery systems out of the hands of young people,” Juul said in a recent blog post.
That means working with law enforcement and government agencies to find and stop counterfeiters, and suing companies infringing on Juul’s trademarks or patents, the blog post says. Companies that market Juul or Juul-like products to kids are especially problematic for the brand, which the US Surgeon General recently called out by name in a December 2018 advisory that declared youth vaping has become an epidemic. “This action is part of our plan to protect the public from such products,” Sobon says.
Updated 12PM ET Saturday, February 23rd, 2018: Updated to include a quote from Juul.