A battle over blenders has been kicked into high gear. At NPE 2003, one man may even handcuff himself to his equipment all for the sake of justice.
In any case, Tom Rajkovich is prepared to fight for his company, Dayton, Ohio-based Comet Automation Systems Inc. He stands by its GraviMix Microblender product, which officials introduced last fall during Plastics Encounter in Indianapolis.
On the other side is Maguire Products Inc. of Aston, Pa. Officials there say the firm holds patents on the equipment. It markets its own product as MicroBlender. Maguire filed suit June 3 against Comet, alleging unfair competition and patent and trademark infringement concerning the small-volume gravimetric blender. Maguire filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Dayton, Ohio.
``If they display the product, then we will take action,'' said Pat Smith, Maguire's vice president of sales and marketing.
But here is Rajkovich's stance: Comet works with a supplier from the Netherlands, Ferlin Trading BV. Ferlin introduced its miniblender in 1993 at a show in the United Kingdom.
Maguire received one patent each in 2000 and 2002 for components related to the microblender.
``Our contention is that the patent suit is baseless, because this was old technology,'' Rajkovich said in a June 10 telephone. ``This has been used for years.''
Rajkovich also questioned Maguire's timing.
``Even though this was introduced and has been sold since September, [Maguire] waited until a week before NPE,'' he said. ``We have until June 24. We have a team of lawyers working on it right now.''
But Maguire officials are not wavering. The timing of the litigation is based upon four factors, including an infringer's refusal to withdraw the product from the market after being given notice, officials said.
Maguire sent a letter to Comet, asking the firm to remove its product from the marketplace by May 30. Maguire also is pursuing action against Ferlin in its European market for the product. Smith said the European patent office has just allowed the patent. Once that process is complete, Maguire will take action.
``Pre-NPE publicity increases exposure of product offerings and increases the likelihood of identifying infringers,'' Smith said. ``It's really got nothing to do with NPE.''
This is not the first time Maguire has sued competitors for patent infringement. Just before NPE 2000, Maguire filed suit against a group of companies, including Piovan SpA of Santa Maria di Sala, Italy, and Novatec Inc., based in Baltimore.
Smith said that pre-show NPE news releases and new product information alerted Maguire to certain products they had not known about. In Maguire's eyes, the validity of the patent already has been proven, because Maguire and Novatec ended up settling.
``We settled it and we're friends. They withdrew the product,'' he said.
In recent weeks, industry scuttlebutt indicated Maguire may re-ignite its patent dispute with Piovan.
``Regarding Piovan, the infringing device model MDW-30 was withdrawn from the marketplace,'' Smith said. ``Unless the MDW-30 is reintroduced, there is no patent dispute.''