Novatec Inc. (Baltimore, MD) announced June 30 that it has filed a patent-infringement suit against The Conair Group Inc. (Cranberry Township, PA), with estimated damages exceeding $8 million. The company specifically cited Conair’s EnergySmart dual-flow line of dryers, introduced in 2007 by Conair, saying the system infringes on a dual-flow patent filed by Novatec in 2004, which was ultimately granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 2006.
Chris Keller, Conair president, told PlasticsToday that his company has seen the complaint, and flatly stated, "I'm not aware of Conair infringing on anyone's patents, much less Novatec's." Novatec's John Kraft said his company has spent the last six months building its case, filing the suit some two years after the technology in question was launched. "We have now seen their literature, their manuals, their PR releases, and most recently, inspected their equipment, which has confirmed our infringement opinions."
The two companies have been at loggerheads for some time, with Conair dropping its own patent-infringement suit against Novatec over dryer monitoring technology last month, after filing the motion in April but never serving it. Keller said that, in that instance, Conair was specifically concerned with how Novatec described one of its products in sales and marketing literature. When the description was changed, Conair dropped the suit, but Keller stressed that the dismissal agreement signed by both companies left the door open to a future patent-infringement claim by Conair. This current matter is further complicated by Novatec’s claim in a press release that knowledge of the technology in question was misappropriated by Conair officials in the 2004-2005 time frame, when the company was weighing the purchase of Novatec and given access to its patents and patent applications under the restriction of a confidentiality agreement. Keller flatly denied that charge as well, saying his company has not breached any confidentiality agreement. Conrad M. Bessemer, president and CEO of Novatec, and formerly an executive with Conair, said in a press release that his company would be seeking “full and punitive damages from Conair.”
Kraft said Novatec and partner Maguire are committed to the pursuit of this action and have set aside monies. "The ownership of Novatec has committed a sizeable figure to a reserve fund to pursue our claims," Kraft said, adding that Novatec and Maguire have more than 140 patents and applications, and that the companies have spent "millions on our technology and intend to make sure that our intellectual property is protected adequately."
In addition to asking Conair to cease selling the technology, Novatec is seeking lost sales damages and indemnification for profits that Conair has earned from the technology since its launch, including sales at last week’s NPE2009, where Conair said it signed two separate purchase agreements for multiple units of the single-stage EnergySmart (ES-1) material-drying systems that totaled nearly $2 million.
In April 2009, Conair filed a patent-infringement suit against Novatec, but never served the company with a subpoena, dropping the suit last month. Bessemer said that action delayed its plans to file a complaint against Conair, but now that the matter has been settled it will pursue its own case.
The patent infringement was filed in the U.S. District court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and relates specifically to U.S. patent No. 7,007,402. Issued March 7, 2006 and entitled “System and Method for Drying Particulate Materials Using Heater Gas,” the original patent application was filed on Oct. 19, 2004, with W. John Gillette designated as the inventor and Novatec as the assignee. The abstract described the patent as protecting “a system and method for drying particulate material in a dual-flow hopper that employs multiple flow paths by which heated gas is inserted into the hopper at different levels. Gas is extracted from the hopper and is divided for flow along two flow paths, one of the flow paths receiving gas that has been dried and the other flow path receiving gas that has not been dried.”
In the motion, Novatec claims Conair has “manufactured, used, sold, and/or offered for sale” devices in the U.S. that infringe on this patent, in particular, its EnergySmart PET drying system. The company is seeking compensatory damages, including all damages suffered as a result of the infringement, saying the company has “knowingly and willfully” infringed. The motion was submitted on June 19, by Charles Quinn and Ronald Shaffer of the Pennsylvania law firm Fox Rothschild LLP on behalf of Novatec.
The patent application says this design differs from previous advances in that it takes advantage of a dual-flow hopper with inlet ports at two different levels without requiring a source of compressed air, a membrane dryer, or an air mixer. Gas extracted from the hopper is split, with some returned to the hopper along a flow path that takes it through a dryer, and the second part sent on a path that bypasses the dryer. Novatec says that since only part of the gas extracted from the hopper passes though the dryer, a smaller dryer can be used, which lowers the initial equipment cost, saves floor space, and reduces the energy required compared to a larger unit.
As part of its filing, Novatec submitted a 12-page promotional brochure for the EnergySmart PET drying system from Conair entitled “Slash energy waste; increase profits” that included diagrams and specifications. —[email protected]