Battenfeld and Gain Technologies Inc. have announced a truce to their 9-year-old war over gas-assisted injection molding patents.
The companies announced Sept. 10 that customers using Battenfeld's Airmould technology can license Melea Ltd. patents from Gain.
The news could be in your mailbox this week if you run Airmould or have ever inquired about it to Battenfeld. Battenfeld has begun mailing copies of the Melea license agreement to 500 companies around the world, said Norbert Beilich, head of the patent department at Battenfeld's parent company, SMS Plastics Technology.
For molders already running Airmould, the option to sign the license only runs for a limited time, according to a news release from Battenfeld. The option must be exercised within 90 days of the Sept. 10 deal between SMS and Melea. For new customers, the deadline will be 60 days after delivery of any new or used Airmould unit from Battenfeld.
Beilich and Gain General Manager Dennis Paul declined to say how much the license costs. The news releases said the ``special option'' to take a license is available ``limited in time for low cost.''
The license agreement is between the molder and Gain, which markets gas-assisted molding technology covered by patents held by Melea, a firm based in Gibraltar.
Gas-assisted injection molding works by pumping gas inside the mold. The gas pushes the melted plastic out in all directions against the mold, creating a hollow space inside the part. Many industry observers say threats of lawsuits - most often made by legendary Gain Technologies founder Michael Ladney - have retarded the technology's growth.
``I think it did, big-time, in the beginning,'' said Jack Avery, manager of operational assets at GE Plastics, who has edited a book on the gas-assisted molding process. ``A lot of people just stayed away from it. They were not willing to take the risk because Ladney was threatening to sue everybody. Basically it limited the acceptance of it.''
But Avery said the fear of lawsuits has waned in the last several years.
Battenfeld and Gain quietly began negotiating at the K'92 show in Germany, trying to reach a licensing agreement. But in 1995 they publicly broke off the talks and issued stinging news releases debating whether Airmould violates about 20 core patents held by Melea.
The talks resumed last year. Ladney no longer is involved in day-to-day operations at Gain, which is based in Sterling Heights, Mich. But Paul said Ladney ``was instrumental in putting the arrangement together'' and ``put a significant amount of time'' into the deal.
Ladney could not be reached for comment.
The news release says Battenfeld and Melea ``will stop all patent litigation between these two firms.'' Each firm agrees not to sue the other in the future. Despite a history of harsh exchanges, the companies never did end up suing each other, according to both firms. The only direct legal action came when Battenfeld appealed the validity of the Melea patents in Europe, according to both companies. Battenfeld will dismiss that action, Beilich said.
Battenfeld expects news of the license deal to lift the cloud of uncertainty from gas-assisted molding, and boost sales of Airmould, Beilich said. Customers who delayed getting into the process can feel more comfortable, he added. Battenfeld, based in Meinerzhagen, Germany, already has a licensing-cooperation agreement with England's Cinpres Ltd., which just merged with Gas Injection Ltd.
``Battenfeld Group is now the one [machinery] company that can give customers the possibility to get into machines with all the patents - Cinpres, Melea and Battenfeld. Battenfeld is the only company that can do that,'' Beilich said in a telephone interview from Germany.
Gain's Paul said: ``I think it's very important in the gas-assist community that an agreement has been reached after all this time.''
He said Gain is in discussions with other injection press manufacturers for similar licensing agreements.
``There's been a lot of stone-throwing, and now I think this says a lot about companies respecting each other's technology,'' Paul said.
Paul said potential customers for gas-assisted technology have been confused by conflicting legal claims about the process.
``This agreement is, in my opinion, a major first step in hopefully getting the answers out to the industry,'' he said.
GE Plastics' Avery wonders how many Airmould users, who have developed their own expertise, will feel the need to take out a Gain license. ``If somebody wants to have the broadest coverage possible, then by paying extra they have that comfort index, a security blanket,'' he said.
Another expert on gas-assisted molding, consultant Michael Caropreso, said molders have made their own modifications for their specific molding jobs.
``A lot of the technology development hasn't been so much in the gas delivery system equipment, but more in the gas pins and gas nozzles,'' said Caropreso, who runs Caropreso Associates in Chester, Mass.