Call it Dryer Wars: Round Two.
Novatec Inc. has fired back at rival Conair Group Inc. with a patent-infringement lawsuit, covering a design of two separate airstreams going into a hopper to boost the energy efficiency of a dryer.
Novatec of Baltimore filed the lawsuit June 26 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, charging that Conair's EnergySmart resin dryer violates a patent Novatec used to develop its Intelli PET drying system.
Novatec has estimated lost sales and manufacturing profits exceeding $8 million and will be seeking full and punitive damages from Conair, said Conrad Bessemer, president and CEO of Novatec. The four-page lawsuit does not specify the amount of money that Novatec is seeking.
Novatec said Conair's Energy Smart violates its patent for a dual-flow ar-rangement with two airstreams going into the drying hopper. Conair uses the term two-stage to describe the original EnergySmart.
Novatec says this dual-flow hopper is covered in a patent issued March 7, 2006, to John Gillette, Novatec's vice president of engineering, and assigned to the company.
U.S. patent 7,007,402 describes a way to dry material in a dual-flow hopper that uses two inlet ports, by which heated air is inserted into the hopper at two different levels.
The air is extracted from the hopper and is divided for flow along two flow paths one flow path receiving air that has been dried and the other for air that has not been dried. Because only part of the air from the hopper passes through a dryer, you can use a smaller dryer, reducing the equipment costs and cutting energy consumption.
Novatec wants an injunction barring Conair from infringing on the patent.
The top Conair executive, Christopher Keller, denied any infringement.
I'm not aware of Conair infringing on anyone's patents, much less Novatec's, Keller said. Intellectual property is a very serious topic for us, and we'll treat this matter accordingly.
Keller is president and chief operating officer of Conair, based in Cranberry Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh.
Just four days earlier, on June 22, Conair withdrew its own patent-infringement lawsuit against Novatec after Novatec agreed to add a sentence to its product literature and Web site about the Intelli PET, clarifying the fact that hopper temperature sensors do not control the drying process.
The legal battle is not just about patents and machinery designs. Harsh language with some personal attacks also is heating up between the rival dryer manufacturers.
Conair said its earlier suit involved the added intrigue of Bessemer, the former Conair executive who left to lead an investor group that bought Novatec in 2006.
Conair implied that Novatec, under Bessemer, developed dryers that mimic Conair dryers. Conair filed the suit in mid-April.
Bessemer called Conair's earlier case a trivial matter, baseless and a deliberate effort to besmirch his reputation.
In a June 30 news release to announce its new lawsuit, Novatec charged that Conair officials including Keller were apparently given confidential information about Novatec and the dual-stage technology, when they visited Novatec in 2004 and 2005 to look into buying the company. They signed a confidentiality agreement, Novatec claims.
It is alleged that Conair used this confidential information to incorporate dual-flow technology (which is protected by the Novatec patent) as part of their EnergySmart product, Novatec said in its news release.
Contacted by Plastics News, Keller said he would not comment on whether Conair executives visited Novatec or wanted to buy the company.
Bessemer said Novatec had been investigating the alleged infringement of EnergySmart for about four months, predating the filing of Conair's lawsuit.
Novatec delayed plans to file its own suit until the Conair literature-wording case was settled, he said.