Nearly three years of behind-the-scenes negotiations over the licensing legalities of gas-assisted injection molding have broken off between leading pro-viders of the technology. On one side is German injec-tion press manufacturer Batten-feld GmbH; on the other, Melea Ltd. and Gain Technologies Inc., the Michael Ladney-run company that markets Melea's patented technology.
The talks, with the goal of a basic licensing agreement, began privately in Germany at the K'92 plastics fair, said Wolfgang Meyer, president of Battenfeld of America Inc., the German firm's U.S. unit in West Warwick, R.I.
But Gain and Melea ended the negotiations in a loud, public fashion. Gain issued a news release last month to ``all plastics magazines worldwide,'' saying that ``Battenfeld has terminated these negotiations.'' Battenfeld then issued its own release.
The conflict is over injection molding machines with Battenfeld's Airmould Process for gas-assisted injection molding. Gain, based in Sterling Heights, Mich.,markets gas-assisted molding technology covered by patents held by Melea, a firm based in Gibraltar.
According to the Gain release, Melea believes that use of the Airmould gas control unit ``directly infringes or induces infringement of numerous of Melea's U.S. and foreign patents.''
``That is incorrect,'' Battenfeld said in its release. ``Battenfeld is convinced that its process and equipment, when utilized in the manner recommended by Battenfeld, does not infringe on any patents belonging to any third parties, including Melea, anywhere in the world.''
Battenfeld said the talks ended because of Melea's ``unrealistic expectations.''
Despite the dueling news releases, the immediate impact of collapsed negotiations on North American molders remains unclear.
Less than 10 percent of the roughly 300 Airmould units Battenfeld has sold worldwide have gone to North American processors, Meyer said.
Also, according to Meyer, since the negotiations began, Battenfeld has asked its customers to contact Gain and Melea to obtain a license, and most of them have.
According to Gain and Melea, their proposed settlement would have allowed current and future Airmould users to obtain a license for Melea patents at a reduced fee.
Since Battenfeld ended the negotiations, Melea now is calling for Airmould users to contact Melea directly to obtain a license.
The release threatens lawsuits and implies that Airmould users could risk losing their status as vendors to major automotive companies, which already hold licenses with Melea.
Four years ago, Battenfeld signed a licensing-cooperation agreement in North America with England's Cinpres Ltd., which markets a competitive gas-assist technology. Cinpres for years has been involved in a series of bitter patent-related lawsuits and countersuits with Gain and Gain's president, the litigious, Detroit-area entrepreneur Ladney.
That agreement remains in effect, according to Meyer.