After nearly 10 years of fighting lawsuits filed against it by a competitor, Pillar Technologies LP of Hartland, Wis., finally won its battle regarding a patent infringement claim. However, it did not succeed in getting its rival's patent declared invalid. Pillar, which claims to be the first U.S. maker of bare-roll corona treating systems for film extrusion and converting, has been in business 30 years.
Judge Rudolph Randa of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, dismissed with prejudice a complaint filed in 1986 by Enercon Industries Corp. of Menomonee Falls, Wis., and Ahlbrandt Systems Inc. of Lauterbach, Germany, that Pillar infringed on two Ahlbrandt patents involving corona treating equipment. This was Enercon's third lawsuit against Pillar.
Enercon makes equipment for the plastics and packaging industries, and supplies custom-built bare-roll and covered-roll corona treating systems.
In July 1993, Ahlbrandt/Enercon removed one complete patent and six of the seven claims of a second patent from the market by donating them to the public domain. The trial moved forward based on a single claim of the second patent.
Enercon termed Judge Randa's ruling a ``split decision,'' noting he did not rule its patent claim invalid.
``Enercon's patent remains valid and enforceable,'' said Augie Ray, director of corporate communications for Enercon.
The ruling also ``vindicates the Enercon/Ahlbrandt group's position as the creator and developer of the first truly practical and effective bare-roll treating system'' and lets stand the claims ``supporting the value of the unique air-flow and exhaust system to enhancing the treating process,'' according to information released by Enercon.
Pillar President Patrick Gengler said: ``The court's decision confirms the independent creativity of our designs.''
Pillar has filed a motion asking the court to rule on Pillar's claims of invalidity of Ahlbrandt/Enercon's patent and the claim of inequitable conduct on the part of Enercon. An invalidity ruling would support Pillar's ability to recover legal expenses and other damages from Enercon.
Pillar also is pursuing a countersuit filed against Enercon in 1986. That suit was stayed awaiting the outcome of the patent infringement lawsuit. The basis of the countersuit is an anti-trust action against Enercon alleging that Enercon has engaged in illegal conduct in bringing a pattern of baseless lawsuits against Pillar in an attempt to monopolize the U.S. market for corona treater equipment.
The first lawsuit Enercon brought against Pillar never went to trial but was settled with an injunction in Pillar's favor. The second lawsuit went to trial and Pillar won.