MONTERREY, MEXICO - Japan's Aoki Technical Laboratory Inc. has reached an out-of-court settlement with a Mexican bottle molder over its use of a machine that Aoki claims infringed its local stretch blow molding technology patent. Aoki withdrew a patent infringement claim against the molder in January after the Toluca firm Moison Pl sticas SA de CV agreed to stop using the three-station machine, built by Magic MP Spa of Monza, Italy. Magic agreed to take back the Moison machine.
Magic, which denies that its equipment infringes Aoki's rights, is challenging the validity of the Aoki patent in Mexico. It has filed an application to have it canceled.
Aoki filed its patent infringement claim in June after discovering that Moison, a local customer with eight Aoki machines, had installed Magic's three-station VF-146/J stretch blow molding equipment.
The claim, filed with the Mexican patent office by Aoki's local distributor, Jatec Latino-americana SA de CV of Mexico City, requested that Moison cease operating the Magic machine.
Aoki said in a statement from its Nagano, Japan, headquarters that an investigation by the patent office last September confirmed that the Moison machine violated Aoki's Mexican patent. The company said its patent covers Aoki's three-station molding method, which eliminates the use of a heat conditioning station between bottle preform injection and stretch blow molding stages.
The company notes that it has registered its injection stretch blow molding technology in 23 countries, including the United States. It said the Mexican case is the first patent infringement claim it has filed. The company, however, is investigating possible patent violations in other countries, said Kaoru Yoshimatsu, Jatec's chief executive.
In 1994, Moison Pl sticas was producing a range of PET water bottles and jars with eight Aoki stretch blow molding machines. Moison owner Moises Chayo said he needed to expand and, having reached a credit ceiling with Aoki, approached Magic's Mexican representative. Chayo said he bought the VF-146/J machine from Magic in October 1994, and it was delivered in March 1995. He ran it from April to December, when he asked the Italian supplier to return his deposit and withdraw its machine.
Chayo said in an interview in Monterrey that after talks with Aoki on financing new purchases, he finally bought a new Aoki 500LL-75 stretch blow molding machine in January.
Moison originally purchased the Magic machine through the Italian company's Canadian agent for North America, Magic North America Inc. of Markham, Ontario.
Ottmar Brandau, MNA's operations vice president, said Moison was granted a two-year credit arrangement when the molder was unable to pay in full the US$450,000 price of the Magic machine and mold.
He said Magic withdrew the machine because ``it does not trust the Mexican justice system'' and feared that if it lost a long court battle it might have faced a huge bill in royalty payments.
Brandau, in a telephone interview from his Canadian office, acknowledges that there are similarities between the Aoki and Magic three-station machines. He said clear differences exist, as well.
The Aoki patent refers to blow molding of the bottle preform when at ``peak'' surface temperatures, which differs from the Magic process, according to Brandau.
Brandau said Magic's machine also is linear and not rotary.
``There are 11 other patents that were filed in Mexico before the Aoki one that basically cover the same thing,'' said Brandau, which is why Magic feels ``very strongly'' that Aoki's patent is invalid.
Magic builds a range of extrusion blow molding machines as well as three- and four-station injection stretch blow molding equipment.
The 35-year-old company has sold about 50 extrusion blow molding machines to date in Mexico. It also has sold the equipment in North America and China.