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11/30/2021

IQOS U.S. Import Ban Goes Into Effect

The U.S. International Trade Commission found that the product infringes on two patents by British American Tobacco Group.
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Logos for Altria and Philip Morris International

RICHMOND, Va. — Two months after the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled Philip Morris International (PMI) and Altria Group Inc. must stop selling and importing the heat-not-burn tobacco product, IQOS, the ban has gone into effect.

The Sept. 29 ruling followed a finding that IQOS infringes on two patents by British America Tobacco Group (BAT), as Convenience Store News previously reported.

London-based BAT is the parent company of Reynolds American Inc.

The import ban went into effect after the Biden Administration failed to intervene before the two-month deadline.

"Today's announcement provides a measure of success for our enforcement of IP [intellectual property] rights to ensure we can continue to innovate, as is common practice among innovation-based industries," said Gareth Cooper, assistant general counsel for BAT. "As we have strenuously noted, there was no reason to overturn the policy and legal arguments already rejected by the foremost global experts on patent law, and the ITC's exclusion order was properly issued and consistent with the public interest."

Cooper added developing a wide range of consumer-acceptable choices of products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration that may be less harmful than cigarettes requires a tremendous investment in innovation.

"We have made significant investments in developing the industry's broadest portfolio of innovative e-cigarette technology as part of fulfilling our goal to reduce the harm from cigarettes, and we will continue to defend our IP robustly across the globe," Cooper said. "Innovation is laborious and cost-intensive work, and we remain confident in our patent defense strategy and the ITC's findings."

According to a report by Bloomberg, the next step for PMI and Altria is to seek a delay with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, the nation's top patent court, which will hear any appeal of the underlying patent case. 

PMI told the news outlet it is disappointed in the results. "Our contingency plans to return IQOS to the U.S. market are underway," it said in an emailed statement. "The U.S. patent office is also reviewing certain claims of the patents in question with initial rulings expected in 2022, albeit subject to an appeal process."