I hate writing lawsuit stories. Unfortunately, I've written several lately, and I've come to one conclusion: Nobody really wins. The Enercon Industries Corp. vs. Pillar Technologies L.P. lawsuit - which involves alleged infringement on corona treating equipment patents - caught my eye mainly because of the length of time these two companies have been in this foolish debate: nine years! Even though Pillar successfully defended itself, it's not over yet, as the company seeks to get a ruling that will allow it to sue to collect attorneys' fees and other recompense from Enercon. That means this could go on another year or two.
Pillar President Patrick Gengler went to Enercon President Don Nimmer, personally, prior to going to trial and asked him, ``Why don't we fight this out in the marketplace, and may the best man win?''
Although Nimmer was not available for comment, an Enercon spokesman said, ``We're certainly willing to compete in the market, but as far as our patents go, we'll defend them.''
Letting the marketplace decide whichproduct is best used to be the American way. Now the American way is to sue each other. Use the system to consume each other's time, energy and money. Then hope like hell you win so you can at least justify spending millions in attorneys' fees.
Gengler said it would be difficult to get the actual dollar figure his company has spent defending itself. Lawyers' fees alone are in the seven-figure range. And that doesn't even count the hundreds of hours he and other employees spent working on their defense.
And after all was said and done, Enercon gave up the majority of its patents and claims.
In retrospect, was it worth it to pursue the suit? Enercon's spokesman said yes, it was: ``If you don't defend your patent it becomes useless, but then you never know how a judge is going to rule.''
Of course each side in this case claims victory.
Enercon said that it won because the court found claim No. 6 of one of its patents ``not invalid'' and thus enforceable.
Pillar won because the court found that it did not infringe upon Enercon's patents.
But in my view, nobody won.
I've pondered what these companies could have done with the money that their lawyers are now carting to the bank in wheelbarrows.
Could they have developed new products? Hired more salespeople? Expanded their manufacturing plant? Bought some advertising?
Courts are a necessity in a democratic society, and a patent or a noncompete contract is only as good as a company's ability to protect or enforce it. But never should lawsuits become a way of life or a way of doing business. And never should it be forgotten: Nobody wins.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.