A&M takes on GE in patent suit

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 19, 2007, 1:00pm

According to a recent federal lawsuit, the engineers at Texas A&M probably think the folks at GE have heard one too many "Aggie jokes."

But these Aggies are not in a joking mood, because The Texas A&M University System has filed a patent infringement complaint against the General Electric Company in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas on Sept. 17.

According to the original complaint, A&M was issued several patents for improving the impact resistance and scratch resistance of polymeric systems. In question are U.S. Patent Nos. 6,300,417 issued Oct. 9, 2001, and 6,423,779 issued July 23, 2002.

On March 3, 2000, the Texas A&M University System and General Electric entered into a non-disclosure agreement to learn more about the impact and scratch resistant thermoplastic olefins. According to A&M, GE agreed to use the confidential information only for the purpose of evaluating its interest in the invention, and agreed that the NDA did not transfer any rights to license the information. The agreement was signed on behalf of GE by William Banolzer, vice president of GE Plastics Global Technology.

After the non-disclosure agreement was executed, GE engineers visited one the inventors, Dr. H.J. Sue, several times at the Mechanical Engineering Department on campus in College Station.

The Texas A&M Univeristy Web site lists Dr. Hung-Jue Sue as a polymers specialist, with a Ph. D. in the Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Sue is listed as a member of the mechanical engineering faculty as well as director of the Polymer Technology Center and the Scratch Behavior in Polymers Consortium. Sue's curriculum vita also lists the '779 and '417 patents among his accomplishments.

A&M now believes that GE used what it learned from the patent and Dr. Sue to begin developing a polyphenylene oxide/polypropylene resin that has impact/scratch resistant properties. GE named their product "Noryl PPX," which it sells through the GE Plastics division.

The University says it wrote to GE in August 2002 and asked that it review the Noryl PPX resin in light of the patents. A&M and GE officials continued to correspond on the matter through 2005.

The Texas A&M University System maintains that GE continues to infringe on its patents through the GE Noryl PPX class of resins. The resins can be used in a variety of automotive products, electronics,healthcare products, packaging and textiles.

The GE 2001 Annual Report says "Automotive applications remain a key focus for our business, and we introduced some revolutionary technologies to this segment in 2001.Our Noryl PPX® resin, which offers automotive customers expanded levels of design flexibility." The company said the use of Noryl and other new materials "will offer our auto industry customers the benefits of greater design freedom, fuel efficiency and cost savings."

But A&M claims the the defendant's acts of infringement have caused damaged to the Texas A&M University System and that the University is entitled to recover damages from GE.

The infringement will continue to damage the University and cause it irreparable harm unless GE is enjoined by the court, the original complaint states.

Because the infringement was willful and deliberate, A&M says it is also entitled to increased damages and attorney fees and costs.

David Burgert of Porter & Hedges LLP in Houston is acting as lead attorney for Texas A&M.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge David Folsom.

Case No. 2:07-cv-00412-DF

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