Two leading makers of gas-assist injection equipment have agreed to cooperate instead of litigate on patented technology. The move is an uncommon occurrence in a sector stung by lawsuits.
Alliance Gas Systems Inc. and Cinpres Gas Injection Ltd. signed a patent cross-licensing agreement May 21 that allows each company to use the other's plastic-expulsion process. The companies, two of the world's largest gas-assist suppliers, found that each had filed patents for similar resin-evacuation technology at nearly the same time.
Alliance calls its process the Backspill method, while Cinpres uses the name Plastic Expulsion Process, or PEP. Both are used to make hollow parts.
Instead of knocking heads with each other, they took a benevolent path that will help both companies, said Terry Pearson, chairman of Middlewich, England-based Cinpres. Pearson was named in patent documents as the inventor of PEP.
``It was a sensible approach,'' Pearson said. ``We're both trying to solve the same problems and came across similar solutions independently. It's good news for the industry when companies show a bit of cooperation.''
The technology in question forms the backbone of the gas-assist approach for both Cinpres and Alliance, based in Chesterfield, Mich. Both systems allow for stop valves on a mold's flow path to close. After that, the mold cavity is filled with resin and some gas is added to apply pressure.
The valves then are opened, expelling the resin while replacing it with gas. The gas compensates for the natural shrinkage of the resin when the mold cools, allowing an injection molder to precisely control the use of resin for a finished part.
The process works well with multicavity molds, allowing for better individual control of each cavity, added Steven VanHoeck, Alliance vice president and treasurer. It replaces an older method that uses overflow wells to expel resin. That spillover process was the subject of a recent lawsuit from an affiliate of competitor Gain Technologies Inc. that cited Alliance as a defendant. Cinpres has been involved in other lawsuits.
The decades-long tussles over gas-assist patents have scared off some potential customers afraid of being taken to court, both Pearson and VanHoeck said. This time, the companies decided to act differently, VanHoeck said.
``The [patents] looked very parallel to us, and we thought the best thing to do was get on board and move forward,'' VanHoeck said. ``That gets molders away from worrying about who has the rights to do this. We both are riding in on white horses.''
Alliance actually had a six-month head start on filing its patent in 2001, and the company was issued patent approval April 6, VanHoeck said. Cinpres is awaiting approval of its PEP patent but expects it soon, Pearson said.
Alliance officials discovered the parallel technology from Cinpres by looking at public patent documents. Both Alliance and Cinpres plan to make the process the basis for their future gas-assist systems, VanHoeck said. Cross-licensing was the only viable solution to allow that.
``It's better to cooperate instead of engaging in a mudslinging contest,'' he said.
As far as the suppliers were aware, no other company in the fiercely competitive gas-assist equipment segment has similar technology, or similar patents, Pearson said. Yet, the companies never can be certain of that in an industry known for surprises, he said.
``You never know what's under the stone,'' Pearson said. ``But we hope there's nothing else there.''