Hoechst Celanese Corp. and its Polymer Composites Inc. and other affiliates will continue making and selling long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics after settling a patent dispute with LNP Engineering Plastics Inc.
The companies settled a lawsuit launched by LNP by agreeing to cross-license their respective long-fiber-composite patents. The companies did not disclose other details of the settlement in a Sept. 9 joint news release.
``To avoid further disputes we agreed to cross-license,'' George Niznik, LNP vice president and director of research and development, said in a telephone interview from LNP's head office in Exton, Pa.
Niznik said that if the suit had run its full course to include a trial, it could have cost LNP $3 million, ``but we were budgeted to go the full course.''
Hoechst and affiliates agreed to the deal because they wanted their customers ``to feel clear to use these materials,'' said Steve Bowen, global business director of Hoechst's Celstran long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic business and former president of Polymer Composites of Winona, Minn.
Niznik said a lawsuit against RTP Co., also of Winona, still is open and he could not comment on how close it might be to a resolution. Ray Leaf, RTP marketing communications manager, declined comment on the suit.
DSM Engineering Plastics Inc., also sued by LNP, agreed about a month ago to stop making and selling long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastics by Jan. 1.
The reinforced composites are about a $30 million-a-year market in the United States, Niznik estimated. Hoechst's Bowen pegged it somewhat larger, at about 25 million pounds a year. It includes polypropylene, nylon and other resins reinforced with glass or carbon fibers for applications such as automotive bumper beams, sporting goods and industrial uses.
LNP considers the materials, which it markets under the Vertron brand name, one of its core markets. Their use is growing as they replace metals. Hoechst officials last year said demand for the products was growing 25-30 percent annually and that global consumption would reach 44 million pounds by the year 2000.
Polymer Composites has been expanding its long-fiber capacity even though LNP's lawsuit had been hanging over it for about a year.
Bowen said the Winona plant will double in size to more than 100,000 square feet this month, making it the largest compounding operation in the world dedicated to long-fiber thermoplastic composites. He claims the operation supplies more than half of North American consumption of such materials.
Niznik said the core of LNP's patents is that the high-degree Verton's fibers are ``wetted'' by thermoplastic during compounding. This allows random fiber dispersion when the composite is molded, and high retention of fiber length. For example, LNP said that, with its technology, more than half the weight of molded glass fibers are 2 millimeters or more in length.