By Peter Mapleston
A group of Italian plastics companies have won their fight to cancel a European patent that could have prevented them competing in the potentially massive market of synthetic wine bottle corks.
US company Supreme Corq, the world's leading supplier of synthetic corks, holds a US patent covering their production and composition using one or more styrenic TPEs and a blowing agent. It was initially awarded a European patent based on the US one, but in 2003 several Italian companies, including closure producers Oremplast and Tapi, and TPE compounder So.F.teR, filed objections on the basis of prior art.
The objection was upheld in 2005, but Supreme appealed. That appeal has now been rejected, and the patent cancelled. This may lead to challenges to patents that Supreme holds in other countries.
Oremplast likens Supreme's attempt to patent the material composition of corks to a bottle maker trying to patent silica, the basis of glass.
Company sales manager Giancarlo Pagani told PRW.com that Supreme was attempting to monopolise the world market for synthetic corks. He claims the result signals a victory for small European companies that have products just as good as multinationals with much bigger marketing budgets.
So.F.teR puts the potential market for synthetic corks at €1bn. In a statement, the company estimates the Italian market alone would represent 350-400 million corks each year. It also said the Supreme Corq patent had covered 31 European countries.
The decision by the appeal court rested on the question of how much hydrogenation is required to turn a styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS) thermoplastic elastomer into styrene-ethylene/butadiene-styrene (SEBS). The judges decreed that the amount could not be fixed with precision, and invalidated the patent on the grounds that its claims were already covered by an existing patent.
From PRW (A Crain publication)