FMT Corp. has lost a skirmish in its patent battle against Aoki Technical Laboratory Inc.
In March, U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., denied FMT's request for an injunction against Aoki, a Japanese firm that makes injection stretch blow molding machines. Aoki issued a news release publicizing the ruling.
The court found that FMT's patents on preform design were invalid because Aoki had displayed the technology on blow molding machines at the 1976 National Plastics Exposition—a legal argument known as ``public use.''
``This confirms our strong belief that Aoki was the true pioneer of the one-step injection stretch blow molding technologies, which were introduced to the public by Aoki long before FMT's patents were filed,'' said Aoki President Shigeto Aoki.
FMT's lawyer, Alfred Breiner, said FMT disagrees that Aoki showed a machine with the technology at the show. The dispute centers on three patents owned by FMT, a Londonderry, N.H., machine shop owned by inventor Fredrick J. Feddersen. The FMT patents cover ways to make flat-bottomed parisons into containers where the bottom is thinner than the sidewalls — applications ranging from soda bottles to wide-mouth containers.
``All the flat-bottom parisons before this had bottoms the same thickness as the sidewalls,'' Breiner said.
Though Breiner downplayed the ruling—and predicted ultimate victory—Shigeto Aoki called it ``a substantial victory for Aoki, particularly in view of FMT's prior cases against other companies.''
FMT in recent years has won big-money patent settlements from other companies, Breiner said. In 1995, it settled with blow molder Constar International Inc., he said. The following year, FMT settled with blow molding machine maker, Nissei ASB Co.
The Nissei settlement came after a federal judge in Atlanta awarded FMT $3.4 million in damages. Both sides appealed, then settled out of court. Alexandria, Va.-based Breiner said the exact amounts are confidential, but FMT received more than the $3.4 million ruling from Nissei, and the Constar amount was ``more than what we got from Nissei.''
Flush off those successes, Feddersen phoned Aoki and offered to sell the machinery company a license for $5 million. Wayne Smith, Aoki's lawyer, said Aoki took that as a threat and sued FMT in New Hampshire.
``We filed the suit to protect our customers because they threatened us,'' said Smith, of the Los Angeles law firm of Graham and James.
FMT countersued and requested the injunction. Two years later, the court ruled against FMT. FMT also filed suit against an Aoki customer, Twin Mountain Spring Water of Nashua, N.H., according to both lawyers. Twin Mountain settled that suit for undisclosed terms a year ago, they said.
Aoki, based in Nagano, Japan, is opening its first U.S. headquarters this month, in Chicago.