An agreement announced Jan. 26 has ended a dispute over ownership of certain patent-pending applications related to wood-plastic compounds.
Pitted against each other had been Michigan compounder RheTech Inc. and Robert Joyce, a former RheTech employee who owns Innovative Plastics and Molding. IPM specializes in gas-assisted molding technology for making wood-composite parts.
The solution: RheTech and IPM have agreed that Joyce is the inventor and that the technology covered by the patent will be jointly owned by both companies. Moving forward, both RheTech and IPM will manage opportunities regarding this technology independently of each other, the firms said in a joint statement.
IPM plans to sell FibreTuff, a natural-fiber composite compound. RheTech's line is called RheVision.
Joyce started IPM in Lambertville, Mich., in 2004. His signature product is wood-plastic composite baluster spindles the long, vertical pieces that support a railing on a deck or stairway. Joyce developed a way to use gas-assisted molding to injection mold the spindles, which sport a contoured shape that resembles balusters turned on a lathe.
RheTech had filed a lawsuit against Joyce and IPM in 2009 in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Whitmore Lake, Mich.-based RheTech had hired Joyce in 2007 as business development manager for wood composites. According to the lawsuit, his job was to market his patented spindle, and RheTech was to be the exclusive supplier of compounds for any firm that licensed Joyce's technology.
During Joyce's employment, RheTech directed Joyce to help the compounder invent new wood-plastic compounds. That led RheTech to file a draft utility patent in 2008 covering such a compound material, which RheTech claims is not related in any way to Joyce's spindle patent.
In the suit, RheTech had charged that while Joyce was employed by RheTech, he used that information to file his own patent on the compound and claim that he owned it.
Joyce denied RheTech's accusation that he misappropriated trade secrets.
In February 2010, the judge dismissed most of the claims, saying they were state-law matters outside of his jurisdiction. The judge retained claims of false advertising.