Broward News

Tamarac Vaporizer Company, Waxxy, Claims Competitor Stole Its Name

Vaporizer pens are the most high-tech way to inhale most everything nowadays: tobacco, marijuana.  The vaporizer industry is in its “Wild West” stage at the moment: Companies like G-Pen, which are endorsed by the rappers Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg, have made hand-over-fist money in the last few years, and knockoff pens can be found all over the internet.

Jeff Wright, age 24, says that in 2015, he read an article in High Times magazine about a vaporizer called the Waxxy, which was manufactured by a California company called Kandy Pens. There was a problem: Wright, who started his own vaporizer company in Tamarac in 2014, owns the Waxxy name. He contends the man who owns Kandy Pens, Graham Gibson, knowingly stole it. On February 16, Wright sued Gibson in federal court.

In Florida, vaporizers have created something of a conundrum for state lawmakers, who are now scrambling to regulate the industry: Last year, the state made it illegal to sell an electronic cigarette to anyone under the age of 18. On January 6, state Rep. Shawn Harrison introduced a bill to ban the usage of vaporizers in public places, like restaurants and shopping malls. According to a 2015 Miami Herald piece, vaporizer sales grew nationally from $1 billion to $3.5 billion from 2012 to 2015.

A 2015 Florida Department of Health study found that one in three Florida high-schoolers had smoked from a vaporizer or electronic cigarette.

Wright, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, says he got into the vaporizer business after selling cheap vaporizer pens on eBay.

“They were just generic ones,” he tells New Times. “White label, kinda resembled the ones from the G-Pen brand. But we were amazed at how fast they were selling.” So, he says, he and two other friends decided to start their own vaporizer company, "Waxxy Vape."

Wright grew up in Jamaica, but says he moved to Fort Lauderdale about 10 years ago with his father. He attended Piper High School in Sunrise. He says that once he and his friends decided to start the company, they got to work building a website, and then hired an engineer to design a high-tech ventilation system inside the vaporizer pen. His company claims in promotional material that the pen uses the same technology as a jet turbine to deliver vapor to customers’ mouths. He says he even found a company in China to help manufacture the product.

“We’d seen this need for originality,” he said. “Most of the vaporizers were just rebranded G-Pens.”

On October 10, 2014, Wright and his team filed to trademark the word “Waxxy” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

But before the trademark was approved, Wright claims Gibson contacted his firm on Facebook last March, asking out-of-the-blue if he could buy Wright’s entire company.

“Are you guys interested in selling your company?” Gibson asked, according to photos of the Facebook Messenger conversation, which were included in the complaint. “Where can I get a sample?”

“Hi were not interested in selling our company,” [sic] a Waxxy representative wrote back. “Send me your number and I will give you a call to discuss getting you a sample.”

The lawsuit claims Gibson discussed some sort of business venture with the trio from Waxxy, but nothing materialized. Gibson did not respond to calls or a Facebook message sent by New Times.

“I called him several times, and spoke with them several times,” Wright says. “He gave us his personal number. He said he was moving from a warehouse in Arizona, and was busy with that.” After a few more phone calls, Wright says Gibson “fell off the map.”

Until, however, Wright noticed the High Times article, and Kandy Pens’ Instagram page, where photos of a vape called “Waxxy” had been posted.

“He just took the name and started running with it,” Wright says.

It isn't the first time Gibson, based in Arizona, has been accused of wrongdoing. Gibson formerly ran a series of health-food companies in Arizona, California, and Delaware. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission sued Gibson for making false claims in his ads, including charging customers for “free” trials, and saying his products had been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray. In 2012, Gibson settled with the FTC, and agreed to pay the agency $1.5 million.

In April 2015, Gibson told a Phoenix tech-news website, which referred to Gibson as a “serial entrepreneur,” that he wanted Kandy Pens to become the “Apple of the portable Vape industry.”

But Wright says the lawsuit has crippled his business. Waxxy, his company, has yet to start selling vapes — he says the money the company would have used for product development has now gone into the lawsuit.

Of course it’s gonna hurt the business,” he said, adding: “But now we’re focused on tackling this lawsuit. You don’t want to be pushing a product that someone else is pushing. You have to address that first.”
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli