Chemicals firm sues Coca-Cola over copyright infringement
By Jessica Holbrook, Plastics News
Posted 19 July 2012
A US chemicals firm is suing Coca-Cola for patent infringement, claiming the beverage behemoth stole a molecule, PEM, designed to enhance the barrier properties of PET.
South Carolina-based Ethox Chemicals, a division of chemical manufacturer Piedmont Chemicals, said its molecule bis(2-phenoxyethyl)terephthalate, or PEM, can be used as a PET additive to reduce permeation, extend shelf-life and allow beer to be sold in plastic bottles.
In a lawsuit filed last month Ethox argued that Coke filed patents for two containers containing the additive, despite knowing that it had no rights to the molecule.
In its patent application, Coke neglected to name the additive’s inventor, Ethox senior research chemist James Tanner, with the “intent of misappropriating the PEM molecule for its own use,” the suit alleges.
According to the filing, Coke approached Ethox and research firm PolyTech Resources three years ago about developing and assessing a genus of molecules designed to enhance the barrier properties of plastic bottles.
In August 2009, Tanner determined that commercially synthesising Coke’s patented additive, bis(2-benzoyloxy)ethyl terephthalate, or BPO1, was not economically feasible. In an email to a member of Coke’s global innovation and research group, Tanner proposed the recently-developed PEM as an alternative.
Coke expressed interest in the molecule and asked Ethox to send over a high-purity sample for testing. From September to November 2009, the parties corresponded about the material; at Coke’s request, Ethox sent two samples of PEM and offered estimated per-pound pricing.
“Upon information and belief, after Coca-Cola became aware of the unique and innovative qualities of PEM, Coca-Cola, by its representatives, decided to steal PEM for its own,” Ethox’s attorney said in legal documents.
In December 2009 Coke filed two patents for polyester containers with enhanced gas-barrier properties. Both patents identified and claimed PEM, according to the suit. Ethox alleges Coke committed fraud and misappropriated trade secrets, among other charges.
Ethox’s suit also claims that Coke violated the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act and is asking the court to require that Coke amend the patent to list Tanner as a co-inventor while asking Coke to pay actual and exemplary damages, including the disgorgement of profits made from using PEM.
Ethox, which has requested a jury trial, is additionally seeking an injunction barring Coke from making, using, selling or importing PEM.
Last week Coke was granted a 31-day extension; it has until 13 August to respond to the suit.
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