Zippo Manufacturing Company, maker of the iconic Zippo lighter, and its subsidiary ZippMark, Inc. announced recently that they have sued LOEC, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lorillard, for trademark infringement in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Zippo sues Lorillard to prevent it from selling’s its e-cigarettes, or ‘e-cigs,’ under the brand name “blu” in light of Zippo’s ownership of the trademark ‘BLU’ for its line of blue-flame butane lighters.
These lighters differ from traditional Zippos in their use of butane fuel rather than traditional lighter fuel, producing a distinct blue-colored flame that’s respective to its namesake.
One of the most recognized brands in the world, Zippo was founded in the fall of 1932 by George G. Blaisdell in Bradford, PA, where it has manufactured over 500 million windproof lighters. With the exception of improvements to the flint wheel and modifications in case finishes, the product remains unchanged and is backed by the company’s famous pocket lighter lifetime guarantee. Zippo’s diverse product line includes lighter accessories; butane candle lighters; fragrance, and lifestyle accessories for men; and a robust line of heat and flame products for outdoor enthusiasts. Zippo markets in over 160 countries and owns the Ronson brand of lighters and fuel and W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery Company, both based in Bradford, PA.
‘Despite our attempts to resolve this matter amicably, Zippo has been compelled to seek the Court’s assistance to protect our BLU trademarks,’ said Zippo President and CEO Gregory Booth. ‘Zippo is instantly recognizable because we have long understood the value of our brand and the need to vigorously protect it against use by others. Our BLU trademarks are similarly valuable and will be similarly protected.’
Lorillard purchased the e-cigarette company Blu eCigs back in 2012 for approximately $139 million in cash and assets. The Blu eCigs brand of ecigs has been around since 2009, 3 years before the company’s acquisition by Lorillard, but the ‘Blu Zippo’ first hit the market in back in 2007.
Lorillard announced in the autumn of 2013 that the sales of its electronic cigarette brand ‘Blu Cigs’ now make up about 4% of its total revenue, growing rapidly from only 1 in the previous last year.
‘It is Lorillard’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. However, as is stated in our previous court filing, Lorillard does not believe it infringes any Zippo trademarks and intends to vigorously pursue its claims,’ said Bob Bannon, director of investor relations for the company.
Of course, anything can happen with the U.S. court system, but this will probably be a win for Lorillard since they’ve held the ‘Blu’ name since 2009 with no judicial action from Zippo until now. Furthermore, electronic cigarettes and Zippo lighters are two very different items and none can benefit from the other’s reputation.
However, the stakes are high for both sides as last year e-cigarettes were a $2 billion industry, and previous attempts to settle and come up with a resolution failed, so this might be a very long battle in court.