Ferromatik Milacron Maschinenbau GmbH, the German unit of Milacron Inc., has joined Gain Technologies Inc. as co-plaintiffs in a second lawsuit over Steelcase Inc.'s gas-assisted molded Cachet chair.
However, it appears the German injection press maker is a passive player, not an active combatant, in the Cachet court action.
Contacted in Malterdingen, Germany, Ferromatik Milacron officials acknowledged the company is a plaintiff, but said they are not actively involved in the litigation. However, they said Gain has the right to enforce Ferromatik's patents because of an earlier agreement announced in May to license five Ferromatik gas-assisted technology patents to Gain.
Underlying both lawsuits is the battle between Gain, the Sterling Heights, Mich., firm run by Michael Ladney, and rival Cinpres Gas Injection Ltd. of Middlewich, England. The new Steelcase lawsuit, filed June 4, means that Ferromatik Milacron joins the battle.
The Steelcase chair is molded by Morton Custom Plastics of Lebanon, Ky., using gas-assisted molding technology licensed from Gain's archrival, Cinpres. The first lawsuit was filed in February, listing as plaintiffs Melea Ltd., a Gibraltar firm that owns gas-assisted molding patents, and Plastic Molded Technologies Inc., doing business as Gain. Steelcase is the only defendant in the first suit, but according to a Gain news release, the new suit also names Cinpres and Morton Custom Plastics.
Interviews with officials from Ferromatik Milacron and Cinpres expose some past hard feelings between the two European firms over the Ferromatik patents - which uses gas injected into a filled mold, pushing the melt back into the barrel - and Cinpres' Plastic Expulsion Process (PEP).
``We feel that [PEP] is infringing on our patent,'' said Michael Schneider, engineering manager at Ferromatik Milacron. He said his firm has tried to get answers, but Cinpres has not responded.
Cinpres Chairman Terry Pearson said PEP does not violate the patents. He countered that Ferromatik has been the one not talking. ``Ferromatik Milacron has not been complying with an agreement signed with Cinpres Ltd. signed in 1991,'' he said. ``Cinpres is requesting explanations from Ferromatik Milacron on why they have not been complying.''
The Steelcase legal action has become a high-profile patent showdown involving the award-winning Cachet chair. But Pearson downplayed Ferromatik Milacron's joining the suit. ``Cinpres Gas Injection is not aware of any of its customers injecting plastic back into the barrel, and certainly the Cachet chair components are not made using this method.''
Separately, Gain announced it has expanded a suit filed in Germany last year against Cinpres, to include the Ferromatik patents.