Juul Labs, the e-cig company under fire for its product’s popularity with young people, has brought on a new VP of Intellectual Property Protection with Adrian Punderson, formerly of PwC and Apple.
Punderson’s job is all about working alongside government agencies, as well as Juul Labs Intellectual Property VP Wayne Sobon, to combat the sale of counterfeit and infringing products. These can range from copycat vapes and pods that are actually marketed as Juul products all the way to products that are designed specifically to be Juul compatible without using the trademark.
These counterfeit and infringing products pose a serious threat to the company. Of course, no business wants its products infringed or its market share stolen.
With Juul, however, it’s far more complicated. Juul Labs is currently under heavy FDA scrutiny over the popularity of its products with minors.
“As you start to enforce generally on the sale of these types of products to youth, oftentimes they are going to look for another seller or distribution point of this product,” said Punderson. “The challenge is that oftentimes they’re going to platforms or places for this and you have no idea what the origin of the product is. A lot of it is counterfeit. So they get something they believe is Juul only to find out they have a counterfeit device or pod.”
He went on to say that, for Juul, a top priority is identifying counterfeit sellers and quickly putting that information into the hands of law enforcement. To the extent that they can’t take action, said Punderson, Juul will take civil action.
Part of the concern is that there is zero transparency into what ingredients are being used in infringing products, whereas Juul’s recipe at least meets the legal requirements for disclosure as it seeks full FDA approval.
Juul doesn’t currently have data around the scale of infringing products on the market, but counterfeit Juul products may inaccurately increase sales figures, intensifying scrutiny from the FDA.
He sees the issue as threefold: Juul Labs must work to stop these products from being manufactured in the first place, ensure they aren’t allowed across borders into the country and take action against retailers who sell infringing products and remove them from the market.
“This isn’t a problem where there is only a production problem but there isn’t really a distribution or consumption problem,” said Punderson. “We don’t have the luxury of looking at the problem singly-faceted. From a global perspective, we want to stop the production and distribution of infringing products around the world, and we’ll work closely with government agencies attempting to stop illicit distribution of goods.”
Punderson previously served as managing director of IP Protection at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, VP of Global Anti-Counterfeiting/Anti-Diversion at Oakley and worked at Apple on the Intellectual Property Enforcement team.
Juul is currently viewed by many as a Facebook-ified, 2018 version of Marlboro. Notably, Juul Labs recently closed a $12.8 billion investment from Altria Group, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes. When asked why he chose to work for Juul, Punderson said his initial reaction was no. But after he did some research around the mission of the company, and thought of his own personal experience losing his father to emphysema, he came around quickly.
“I would do anything to get two or three more years with my dad, who was a lifelong smoker,” said Punderson. “[…] We’re trying to do good things here, move people away from tobacco and give them an alternative. To me, it’s a valuable, noble cause that’s worth being involved in and I’m proud to be here.”
It remains to be seen just how big of an issue infringing products are for Juul and other above-board e-cig makers, but Juul is ramping up its efforts to combat copycats from getting into the hands of consumers.