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Federal e-cig lawsuits officially transferred to North Carolina from California

A series of patent-infringement lawsuits addressing electronic cigarette technology has made the transition from federal court in California to the Middle District of North Carolina.

The transfer was completed Wednesday.

A federal judge in the Central Circuit of California agreed Aug. 8 to R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.’s request for the transfer, which cited legal precedents when there are limited, if no, operations of the plaintiff and defendant in the current court.

Reynolds Vapor manufactures Vuse, the top-selling U.S. e-cig product with a 37.3 percent market share, at its Tobaccoville plant.

Reynolds accuses Fontem of filing lawsuits in the circuit court as an inconvenience to defendants.

Fontem Ventures BV and Fontem Holdings BV, owned by Imperial Brands PLC of England, had filed at least three lawsuits against Reynolds Vapor. The lawsuits were filed April 4, May 3 and June 22.

Reynolds said all of its witnesses and resources are in the Middle District, as well as some of Fontem in Charlotte and Imperial’s U.S. operations in Greensboro.

“In the interests of justice and for the convenience of the parties and the witnesses, this case should be transferred to North Carolina,” Reynolds’ attorneys said.

Reynolds said it also would be more convenient for the NuMark LLC cases to be transferred to the Middle District since it is much closer to NuMark, based in Richmond.

NuMark, the e-cig subsidiary of Altria Group Inc., filed its response Wednesday to the latest Fontem lawsuit filed against it.

The Fontem companies are suing for what they call unlawful use of seven patented technologies. They focus their claims on patents for rechargeable e-cigs, cartridge refill packs, batteries and disposable e-cigs. Fontem said it obtained patents on its technology in February 2013.

Reynolds claims it has developed internal e-cig technology.

Fontem accuses Reynolds of patent infringement in its Vuse solo rechargeable digital vapor cigarettes and its Connect power units.

For example, Fontem repeats the legal accusation it made against Lorillard that Reynolds Vapor is in infringement with its cartridge technology, in particular when it says it does not allow another e-cig product to be used with Vuse products.

Fontem is suing for an undisclosed amount of damages because of “irreparable harm” done to the companies, including lost market share and lost profits on infringing sales.

Fontem also has filed lawsuits against the other major U.S. e-cig companies: ITG Brands LLC, which makes blu eCigs; NJoy Inc., Ballantyne Brands LLC of Charlotte, maker of the Mistic brand; and Vapor Corp.

Altogether, the Fontem companies have been a party in 89 complaints just in the Central Circuit court, including 15 that are open. The filings began March 5, 2014, with undisclosed settlements reached in some lawsuits.

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