Polymer Composites Inc. plans to fight a patent-infringement suit filed against it by LNP Engineering Plastics Inc., according to PCI President Stephen Bowen. The plastics compounders are at odds over LNP patents covering wet-out technology for long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics. In its Sept. 16 lawsuits, LNP claims that PCI, DSM Engineering Plastics Inc. and RTP Co. all are violating LNP patents pertaining to its Verton LFRT pultruded stock, pellets and parts.
But Bowen said PCI, a Hoechst Celanese Corp. subsidiary, holds its own patent on enhancing the wet-out of Celstran LFRTs that pre-dates LNP's first Verton pat-ent, issued to LNP's former owner, Imperial Chemical Industries plc, in 1985, and acquired last year by current Tokyo parent Kawasaki Steel Corp. However, PCI has not yet received legal papers confirming the suit, he said.
``We're extremely surprised and very disappointed to hear that LNP is taking legal action against industry competitors,'' Bowen said from PCI headquarters in Winona, Minn. ``We intend to vigorously pursue any legal action that we can to show that [the lawsuit] is without merit.''
``From our part we are convinced that what they're doing is falling within the scope of our claims,'' George Niznik, LNP's head of research and development said from Exton, Pa., headquarters.
LNP and PCI both lay claim to being No. 1 in LFRT market share. Richard Burns, LNP's chief operating officer, estimated the U.S. market for pellets at $30 million to $40 million, and growing. For both firms, key LFRT markets are in metal replacements, and include sports equipment, hardware, automotive and industrial products. LNP compounds mainly nylon and polypropylene LFRTs, but the patents cover all LFRT thermoplastics, Niznik said.
Bowen claims Celstran, which makes up all of PCI's sales, does twice the business of Verton, which he said makes up a small piece of LNP's $250 million in total sales.
``In recent years, [LNP has] been less focused on exterior market needs,'' he said. ``Our focus has been to build a rapidly growing market, and we think they've benefited from that.''
But through patents dated 1985, 1991 and 1993, LNP claims exclusive worldwide rights to Verton LFRT pultruded stock, pellets and parts. Those patents cover proprietary wet-out technology that makes glass fibers cling substantially to the plastic, resulting in superior injection molded products, Burns said.
Neither RTP of Winona nor DSM in Evansville, Ill., would comment on the lawsuits.
Since 1994, Niznik said, LNP's competitors expressed doubts about the validity of the Verton patents. So, last year LNP submitted the two Verton patents covering pellets and parts to the Patent Office for re-examination. When the office concluded Sept. 10 that the patents were valid, LNP launched its suits, he said.