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Web Date: December 23, 2009

Bottle Battle Brews

Intellectual Property: Eastman complaint alleges Indorama stole trade secrets
Department: Business
Keywords: PET, lawsuit, trade secrets
Eastman alleges Indorama pinched its technology to produce bottle polymers.
Credit: Shutterstock
Eastman alleges Indorama pinched its technology to produce bottle polymers.
Credit: Shutterstock

Eastman Chemical has filed a lawsuit against Indorama Polymers charging the Thailand-based polyester producer with stealing manufacturing trade secrets and using them in a just-opened $140 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plant in Decatur, Ala.

In a complaint filed Dec. 18 in U.S. Federal Court for the District of Delaware, Eastman is seeking unspecified damages and a court order to prevent Indorama from infringing on three patents that encompass Eastman's IntegRex technology.

Indorama did not respond to C&EN inquiries at press time, but according to its website, the 432,000-metric-ton-per-year Decatur facility, known as AlphaPet, uses technology called melt-to-resin (MTR) from the engineering firm Uhde Inventa-Fischer.

MTR, like IntegRex, is touted as producing PET, used to make soda and water bottles, in half the footprint of a conventional PET plant at a much lower cost. For its part, Uhde acknowledges ownership of the MTR technology but says it cannot comment on the legal dispute.

Eastman has operated a 350,000-metric-ton PET plant in Columbia, S.C., since 2007 using the IntegRex technology. In early 2008, Eastman sold Indorama two PET plants—one in the U.K. and one in the Netherlands--that use older conventional technology.

When Eastman sold the European plants, the firm says in its complaint, it granted Indorama a license to use certain Eastman technology to make PET polymers and feedstock purified terephthalic acid in Europe. Eastman says the license did not include its IntegRex technology.

However, Eastman became suspicious about the technology being used at the AlphaPet facility and sent a letter to Indorama in April which "discussed Eastman's concerns about any use of unlicensed Eastman trade secret information." Eastman says Indorama did not respond.

The U.S. firm alleges that former Eastman employees now working for Indorama were familiar with the IntegRex technology and charges that they "improperly used and disclosed Eastman's confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information." Eastman has asked the court to schedule a jury trial.

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