GE Plastics and Asahi Chemical Co. Ltd. are locked in a legal battle covering two continents, with Asahi claiming that GE is violating its patented, nonphosgene polycarbonate production methods at plants in Japan and Spain.
The firms already are involved in a patent infringement suit in a Tokyo court. GE of Pittsfield, Mass., also has asked a Spanish court to invalidate Tokyo-based Asahi's nonphosgene patent in that country, to clarify GE's ability to produce PC at its soon-to-open Cartagena, Spain, plant, GE spokesman Bob Hess said.
GE has produced PC in Chiba, Japan, since 1994 using nonphosgene technology licensed from Italian PC maker Enichem. The technology uses diphenyl carbonate as a feedstock and does not use phosgene — a poisonous gas — or methylene chloride, a potential carcinogen.
Hess said Enichem commercialized its nonphosgene technology in 1987—two years before Asahi was granted its patents.
``It's our contention that the method to make polycarbonate using [diphenyl carbonate] was already publicly available when the Asahi patents were issued,'' Hess said by telephone.
GE's Cartagena plant is set to open in early 1999 with annual capacity of 286 million pounds. The firm already has plans to double that capacity by early 2002.
Asahi officials could not be reached for comment. Japan Chemical Week reported Dec. 3 that Asahi plans to file suit against GE in Spain.
GE ranks as the world's largest PC producer, with more than 1.1 billion pounds of annual capacity.