Tobacco

Jury Awards Altria $95M in Reynolds Patent Lawsuit

Vuse Alto e-cigarette infringed on 3 patents, court concludes
Vuse Alto pods
Photograph courtesy of R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.

RICHMOND, Va. — Reynolds Vapor Co.’s Vuse Alto electronic cigarette infringed three patents owned by Altria Client Services, a jury found.

The jury in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina awarded Altria more than $95 million in past damages, the Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company said. Altria also asked the judge to consider a royalty rate of 5.25% for future sales. Post-trial proceedings will address ongoing damages through the expiration of Altria’s patents in 2035.

“Patents are at the core of innovation, and we take very seriously protecting our intellectual property,” said Murray Garnick, executive vice president and general counsel at Altria. “We are pleased that the jury recognized the importance of Altria’s innovation and the value of its patent rights.”

A spokesperson from R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., Winston-Salem, N.C., told CSP  they were disappointed by the verdict and intend to vigorously defend the issues remaining for the court and, if necessary, appeal the decision.  

We take allegations of infringing the intellectual property rights of others seriously, R.J. Reynolds' spokesperson said. When necessary and appropriate, we will take every available measure to defend against allegations that seek to undermine our investment in innovation and our ability to reduce the health impact of our business. For the same reason, we will continue to defend our intellectual property robustly across the globe.

The three patents at issue were awarded to Altria Client Services on findings dating back to April 2015. The jury found that Reynolds Vapor violated Altria’s patents covering the pod assembly used in Vuse Alto, Altria said.

In June 2020, Altria Client Services filed a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., claiming the company infringed on nine patents owned by Altria’s subsidiaries and seeking monetary damages. At the time, Reynolds said Altria filed the patent infringement lawsuit in retaliation to a lawsuit British American Tobacco Group (BAT) filed against Philip Morris International (PMI), which Altria has denied.

BAT had filed two lawsuits against PMI for allegedly infringing on its patents in regards to technology used in PMI’s IQOS heat-not-burn device. Altria has an agreement with New York-based PMI to market the IQOS in the U.S. A panel later ruled in September 2021 that IQOS infringed on two patents held on BAT’s subsidiary R.J. Reynolds.

Vuse Alto, a large capacity pod-based system with a ceramic wick and alloy heating element, is one of several electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) from R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized several products from the company’s brands including Vuse Vibe, Vuse Ciro and Vuse Solo under the premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process, but Vuse Alto’s PMTA is still under review. 

Reynolds American Inc. is the U.S. parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., among other entities. Reynolds American and its affiliates are independent U.S. subsidiaries of the global BAT, London.

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