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The View from 30 Feet: Patent Infringement

by Jen Clark

Plastics Business

Business gurus often talk about the view from 30,000 feet – the big picture that provides a look at overall operations. Perhaps, however, the focus should be on the view from 30 feet – a close-up of specific processes and procedures that make an impact now.

The case of an American patent, copyright and trademark theft by a Chinese company is drawing scrutiny from the US Department of Homeland Security and other authorities. The patent, copyright and trademark in question are held by Beaumont Technologies, Inc., Erie, PA. John Beaumont, president and CEO, said a company in China lifted sales information from his company website and other locations, as well as information from Autodesk regarding Moldflow simulation software. He also has seen molds imported from China equipped with unauthorized MeltFlipper® technologies, which are designed to provide a homogenous distribution of melt condition to each cavity in a multi-cavity mold.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, patent infringement is the act of making, using, selling or offering to sell a patented invention, or importing into the US a product covered by a claim of a patent without the permission of the patent owner. Companies also can be considered in violation of patent law if they import items into the US that are made by a patented method. US companies using Chinese molders may not know they are importing illegal goods until they are seized entering the US.

In September, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. (SPI) helped coordinate a meeting with eight people from various agencies that included Homeland Security, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, Global Outreach and Training and a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent. Beaumont along with John Blundy, Beaumont Technologies’ vice president of business development, and Michael Taylor, SPI’s director of international affairs and trade, discussed multiple issues with the authorities. Among them, molds being built in China with Beaumont Technologies’ patented technology.

"The interest by all parties was to enforce US patent laws," Beaumont said. "We have increasingly seen our technology appear in designs from China without our input or approval. We were instructed on how to file a complaint to begin the process of investigation. This has been done and the record has been added to a Customs Intellectual Property Rights computer module for access by CBP Officers at all ports of entry. In time, we will be developing a strategy and training material to help import agents to readily identify molds with our technology. Seizure of product being produced in China with our patented technology is more complex and was part of our discussions."

Patent infringement cases can take months, even years to reach an outcome. For small companies, like Beaumont Technologies, that can be a very expensive process. And, it can lead to problems for unsuspecting companies that are importing illegal molds or products built using illegal molds from China.

While theft of US intellectual property in China is common, it is difficult to enforce US patent laws there, Beaumont said. "In some cases, it is lack of knowledge of the law and the result of individuals (typically engineers or even engineering management) who see the theft, but don’t recognize the threat that is raised by their use of molds with stolen technology. The threat is particularly acute when they are knowingly using these illegal molds, " he said.

Beaumont said his goal with all of this is to raise awareness of the intellectual property laws in the US. "It only is a matter of time before more and more US technology companies begin to find that their only recourse in fighting this sort of intellectual property theft is to work with the US Department of Homeland Security to block entry to the US," he said. "It is very frustrating for a small US company – developing new technologies – not to be able to protect their intellectual property in a country like China. The cost and road blocks are prohibitive. Therefore, the only hope is to identify (stolen products) and then use the power of the US government block their entry to the US."