There's nothing like a lawsuit to put a wet blanket on innovation. So the news that two leaders in metallocene catalyst research have settled their 5-year-old patent dispute is welcome.
Dow Chemical Co. and Exxon Chemical Co. settled their global patent tiff June 16. Details were sketchy, but the terms really are not that important.
The key is that now both companies can accelerate their efforts to license other suppliers to make metallocene resins. That should help boost supply, reduce cost, and expedite the use of metallocene materials in many new applications.
Suppliers have touted the tremendous potential of metallocene catalysts for nearly a decade. Using the catalysts, suppliers can take everyday materials like polyethylene and polypropylene and, with something akin to pinpoint accuracy, design materials with properties that are tailor-made for specific products.
Metallocene researchers promised supertough film resins, elastomers capable of winning a share of the challenging cable insulation market, and polyolefins with clarity and performance properties similar to PVC.
But, because of the pending litigation, resin suppliers have been reluctant to license metallocene technology. With the lawsuits now settled, other suppliers will feel free to start making metallocene resins.
Expectations will be high. No doubt industry will fall short of the most ambitious projections. But that's irrelevant. What's important is that there's one less hurdle to metallocene materials. Processors had better be prepared for the consequences.
The smart ones, who anticipate how metallocenes will change their markets, surely will reap substantial rewards.