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Ethox Scientist Named On Coke Bottle Technology Patent

Litigation: Ethox prevails in lawsuit against Coca-Cola over bottle polymer additive

by Ann M. Thayer
October 15, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 41

Credit: Coca-Cola/C&EN
Ethox chemist James Tanner will now be listed as coinventor on a patented soda bottle gas barrier.
Personalized Coke bottles read “James Tanner.”
Credit: Coca-Cola/C&EN
Ethox chemist James Tanner will now be listed as coinventor on a patented soda bottle gas barrier.

A U.S. District Court judge in South Carolina has ruled that research chemist James Tanner should be listed among the inventors on U.S. patent 8110265 covering polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle technology.

With the addition of his name, Tanner’s employer, Ethox Chemicals, will share rights to the bottle polymer technology with beverage giant Coca-Cola, says Philip L. Hirschhorn, an attorney representing the small specialty chemical developer.

Ethox, which is part of Piedmont Chemical Industries in High Point, N.C., will “now work hard to actually promote the technology in the marketplace,” Hirschhorn adds. “We believe that it is valuable technology, which is one of the reasons Coca-Cola fought so hard to protect it and keep it in their own hands.”

Coca-Cola began working with Ethox in 2009 on PET containers with enhanced mechanical and gas barrier properties. The court found that Tanner conceived of using and then synthesized the gas barrier additive bis(2-phenoxyethyl) terephthalate (PEM) after determining that Coke’s desired molecule, bis[2-(benzoyloxy)ethyl] terephthalate, couldn’t be made economically.

Ethox sued in 2012 after Coca-Cola received a patent that claimed PEM. According to Hirschhorn, Coca-Cola didn’t put Tanner, who was the only one of six coinventors who didn’t assign rights back to the company, on its patent applications. Coca-Cola argued that it was already aware of PEM and had included the molecule in other patent applications predating Tanner’s work.

“While the court’s decision finding Dr. Tanner a coinventor is disappointing, it does not affect the company’s ability to use the patent technology nor does it find the company liable for any damages to Ethox,” Coca-Cola says in a statement. The company adds that it will “consider next steps as appropriate.”

Although no damages were awarded, further court proceedings will address a request for fees and possibly damages depending on what action Coca-Cola takes, Hirschhorn says. Other issues are open to possible appeal, he adds. In earlier proceedings, for example, the district court had dismissed Ethox’s claims of unfair competition, fraud, and misappropriation of trade secrets.



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