Altira Sues Tobacco Giant –

Altira Group Inc. is simultaneously raising its fourth fund and battling Philip Morris Co. for using something very close to the VC firm’s name.

Peter Edwards, a partner at the energy technology VC firm, says he feels bullish about the fund-raising progress of its $100 million offering, Altira Technology Fund IV LP. Most of the limited partners in Altira’s previous fund have committed to the new offering, and the partners have been shopping it around to new investors since April with some success.

The new fund is expected to close by October. Altira invests in companies developing and commercializing technologies for the energy industry.

While fund-raising, Altira has filed a trademark suit against Philip Morris, the parent company of Kraft Food Inc., Miller Brewing Co. and Philip Morris U.S.A. It claims the tobacco giant knew about Altira Group when it decided to change its name to Altria Group Inc.

The VCs filed an injunction asking the court to prevent Philip Morris from changing its name until the trademark suit came to trial, but on June 18, a federal judge denied Altira’s request. The judge ruled that even if Philip Morris proceeded with the name change while the case was still open, the evidence did not prove it would cause confusion.

Complicating matters, Philip Morris plans to rename its investment arm Altria Capital Corp. Altira argues that its trademark will be overwhelmed by Philip Morris. “This is a very big deal for my company’s development,” says Edwards. “We’re not dropping the case, and they’re not giving in,” he says.