A day after they were ordered to pay more than $5.2 million in actual damages and before a jury could deliberate on punitive damages, Exxon Chemical Co. of Houston and Fina Oil and Chemical Co. of Dallas agreed to settle a lawsuit with Houston research chemist John A. Ewen. Terms of the April 5 settlement were not disclosed.
Ewen, who worked for Exxon in the early 1980s and Fina in the late 1980s and early 1990s, filed suit against the companies in 1991, claiming they defamed him by changing the order of inventors listed on patents for syndiotactic polypropylene, a product of his research into metallocene catalyst technology.
In a telephone interview April 11, Ewen said more than 24 patents for which he was listed as the primary inventor formed the cornerstone of metallocene catalyst technology. Ewen said he assigned patent rights, as his contract with Exxon and later with Fina required, to the companies.
Syndiotactic PP was a development Exxon was not interested in, Ewen said, until he began to work on it at Fina.
After a patent battle between Exxon and Fina in 1989, the firms agreed to split rights on the invention but, Ewen's lawyers argued, the companies plotted to destroy Ewen's reputation.
Jurors cleared the companies of allegations of civil conspiracy and fraud, but ruled that company executives made malicious, false statements about Ewen, including accusing him of violating his oath to keep proprietary information secret.
The jury assessed $537,000 against Fina and more than $4.6 million against Exxon for defamation and tortious interference in Ewen's work at Fina.
Ewen, who was nominated for a 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for unrelated research, now operates Catalyst Research Corp. of Houston, a licensing and consulting firm that deals in polyolefin catalysts.
An Exxon spokesman said his company and Fina settled with Ewen to conclude the lawsuit and move forward.