Ethox Chemicals, a small specialty chemical developer based in South Carolina, is suing Coca-Cola over a new additive for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. After it worked with Coke to develop plastics with improved gas permeability, Ethox claims, the beverage giant filed for patents without naming it or the inventor.
In August 2009, Ethox Senior Research Chemist James Tanner conceived of and synthesized bis(2-phenoxyethyl) terephthalate (PEM), according to the company. He came up with the molecule after determining that it wasn’t economically feasible to make Coke’s bis[2-(benzoyloxy)ethyl] terephthalate.
Starting in late 2009, Coke filed U.S. and international patent applications that claim PEM as a part of polymer compositions with enhanced gas barrier properties. Ethox says the filings were made only after Coke learned about Tanner’s work. It wants the applications and an issued patent to be amended to include Tanner.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, came after attempts to negotiate with Coke failed, says Philip L. Hirschhorn, an attorney representing Ethox. “They are looking to protect their intellectual property and want ownership of the molecule,” he says.
Ethox is seeking damages for the misappropriation of trade secrets and their public disclosure via the patent applications. It also wants to bar Coke’s use of PEM in plastic bottles. PEM’s gas barrier properties might help increase soda shelf life and allow other beverages, such as beer, to be bottled in plastic. “It could be a vast amount of damages because it really is a novel product,” Hirschhorn adds.
Coca-Cola did not respond to C&EN’s requests for comment on the lawsuit.