Legal battles over gas-assisted injection molding technology- until now largely limited to a Cinpres-vs.-Melea affair - have dragged in two molders in England that license Cinpres technology. The suits, pulling plastics pro-cessors into the fray, could be the start of a new round in the long-running legal battle over the gas-assisted process.
Patent-infringement lawsuits filed against the molders are the first against a Cinpres licensee since the late 1980s.
Meanwhile, as it faces more legal bills, Cinpres Ltd. of Tamworth, England, said its parent, B.I. Group plc, has a new deep-pockets owner - Kuwaiti holding firm National Industries Co.
Cinpres announced that its competitor, Melea Ltd., filed suits in England against two British injection molding companies: Linpac Mouldings Ltd. of Birmingham, and Clear-Plas Ltd. of Coventry. Clear-Plas was acquired in April by Key Plastics Inc. of Novi, Mich., a major U.S. automotive molder.
Gas-assisted injection molding can make hollow parts by injecting gas into the melt stream, pushing the plastic out against mold walls.
Melea is a Gibraltar firm that owns gas-assisted molding patents marketed by Gain Technologies Inc. of Sterling Heights, Mich., and Michael Ladney, a conten-tious figure in gas-assist circles known for suing, and threatening to sue, firms for violating patents.
Steve Jordan, managing director of Cinpres, said the lawsuits, filed by Melea in February at the United Kingdom High Court in London, mark the first such suits against a Cinpres licensee in nearly a decade.
``That's really why we have decided to fight back so significantly,'' he said in a July 30 telephone interview from England.
Jordan said the names of Ladney or Gain Technologies do not appear in the patent infringement suits. Cinpres issued a July 23 release to the U.S. trade press, several weeks after the news was announced in Europe.
Jordan said he could not gauge what effect the lawsuits might have on Cinpres licensees in North America.
Ladney was out of the office last week, and other officials from Gain Technologies did not return telephone calls for this story.
But in June, Plastics & Rubber Weekly, a British publication, reported that Ladney said Melea may take action against some U.S. Cinpres licensees. The licensees were not identified.
Jordan said Cinpres intends to defend its technology aggressively.
``Cinpres ... wants to ensure its licensees have a climate with which to carry on its business. Cinpres has taken on the challenge. Our goal is to make sure all our licensees can operate without interference. We don't think it's right that they should be harassed,'' he said.
Jordan said the last time a Cinpres licensee was involved in a courtroom gas-assisted molding dispute was the late 1980s, when Ladney and his former company, Detroit Plastic Molding Co., battled Cinpres over the so-called Friederich patent covering introducing gas through the nozzle of the injection unit. Ladney filed a suit in Detroit in 1987, and an arbitration ruling ended the matter in 1989. The Friederich patent expired in the United States in January.
According to Cinpres, the new lawsuits filed in London center on a Melea patent covering ``timely injection,'' which is defined as injecting the gas ``in a timely fashion to prevent the plastic from stopping its movement in the mold cavity.'' Melea alleges that Cinpres, Linpac and Clear-Plas infringed the patent.
Cinpres said that Melea filed the suits shortly after it obtained the European patent in late January, with a priority date of 1990, and that Cinpres has been licensing its technology since 1985. Melea has held the timely injection patent in the United States for several years.
Jordan said Cinpres has filed a declaratory action in Washington contesting the U.S. version of the timely injection patent. He had no further information about that case, however. Jordan said Cinpres has written letters to licensees requesting to be notified if they are contacted by Melea. He said the Kuwaiti ownership means Cinpres is a much more well-financed company now than during the Friederich fight.
Separately, a Gain Technologies advertisement in the March issue of European Plastics News has sparked yet another lawsuit in United Kingdom High Court. Cinpres recently sued Ladney and Gain Technologies over the ad, which claims: ``Everyone is dancing around our patents.''
European Plastics News is not affiliated with Plastics News.