A 4-year-old battle over controllers for gas-assisted molding will live on, as the president of Epcon Gas Systems Inc. is vowing to appeal a ruling that handed victory - for a second time - to Bauer Compressors Inc.
In late 1998, Epcon sued Bauer in U.S. District Court in Detroit, charging that Bauer's device to control nitrogen gas violates a patent that Epcon licensed from Michigan inventor Norman Loren. Judge Arthur Tarnow granted Bauer's motion for summary judgment in 2001, but Epcon promptly appealed.
Epcon picked up a win in early 2002, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the district sent the case back to Tarnow for a trial. But Tarnow, ruling Feb. 12, responded to the appeal by clarifying his earlier reasoning - then again granting Bauer's summary judgment request, with no trial.
Bauer has posted the 29-page ruling on its Web site. In a news release, Bauer said: ``This should put an end to this long-standing legal battle. Once again Bauer has successfully defended its position that the use of the gas-assist process does not require expensive licensing.''
Epcon President Jon Erikson was incensed by the ruling. He said that he wants a trial and that Epcon of Rochester, Mich., will appeal. ``It's a bad read, and it's not over,'' he said. ``How can a district judge say the appellate court was wrong? It just blows me away.''
Richard Goralski, technical sales specialist at Bauer, said Epcon does have the right to appeal. But he said officials feel confident Bauer will win again.
Issued in 1992, the Loren patent covers pressure profiling of gas, or the ability to set gas pressure up and down, and keep it the same. During gas-assisted injection molding, gas pushes melted plastic out against the mold's walls, forming hollow parts.
Bauer of Norfolk, Va., began making its nitrogen gas controller in 1998. Bauer markets the controller through its Plastics Technology Group in Clinton Township, Mich., near Detroit.
Bauer wanted the judge to rule the patent invalid, but Tarnow declined, saying that was not necessary since the Bauer equipment does not infringe on the patent.
Judge Tarnow said there is ``no conclusive proof'' that Bauer violated the patent. He said the appeals court affirmed part of his decision, but sent the case back for trial based on a single claim listed in the Loren patent: that the pressure profile works by increasing, decreasing and holding the gas pressure constant during molding. Tarnow said the appeals court did not analyze demonstrations Bauer made for customers - which were cited by Epcon as proof of infringement - to determine if Bauer employees conducted all three of those elements. So the judge examined that angle, and ruled in Bauer's favor.