Ze-gen Fires Back in Patent Dispute; Calls Quantum Catalytics’ Infringement Allegations “Fraudulent”

10/23/08Follow @wroush

Boston-based Ze-gen has struck back at Quantum Catalytics. Ze-gen, in documents filed yesterday in federal District Court in Boston, says the patent infringement claims Quantum filed against it in August are “transparently fraudulent” and “so oblique as to be unfathomable.”

Many of the patents at stake in the lawsuit have expired, Ze-gen pointed out in a motion filed yesterday asking Massachusetts District Court Judge Judith Dein to dismiss Quantum’s lawsuit. Ze-gen also claims Quantum failed to specify how Ze-gen’s waste gasification technology–which turns ordinary municipal and construction waste into hydrogen- and carbon-monoxide-rich “syngas”—infringes on the remaining patents.

Quantum Catalytics, a Fall River, MA, company headed by John T. Preston, the former top technology licensing officer at MIT, alleges that Ze-gen wrongfully acquired trade secrets relating to a technology originally patented by MIT spinoff Molten Metal Technologies for vaporizing waste in a bath of molten iron. Quantum obtained the rights to those patents after Molten Metal went bankrupt in 1997, and it charged in its original complaint, filed August 22, that Ze-gen obtained confidential information about the patented technologies by hiring a series of former Molten Metal employees.

Ze-gen not only denies that its gasification technology is based on the Molten Metal patents, but argues that the case is moot, since many of the patents have expired and are now “irretrievably” in the public domain. Ze-gen filed documents with its motion showing that six of the 14 allegedly infringed patents lapsed between 2000 and 2004 after Quantum failed to pay required maintenance fees to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Federal laws “preclude any claims based upon lapsed patents,” Ze-gen’s attorneys assert in the motion.

I attempted to contact Quantum Catalytics for comment on Ze-gen’s assertions, but the company didn’t immediately respond to phone messages.

Ze-gen Demonstration PlantI did talk briefly with Ze-gen CEO Bill Davis. The motion speaks for itself, he said, explaining that there was little else he could say publicly about the case while it is still being litigated. “Our position is that we have not done anything wrong or violated anybody’s intellectual property of any form, and we’re going to vigorously defend ourselves,” Davis said.

The Ze-gen motion (which we’ve posted here) asserts that the court should, on the basis of the expired patents alone, dismiss all counts in Quantum’s complaint. But the motion mainly argues that Quantum’s complaint should be thrown out because it is too vague.

Indeed, while the 21-page complaint filed by Quantum enumerates the 14 patents granted to Molten Metal between 1993 and 1998 for such things as a “method and system for injection of a vaporizable material into a molten bath,” it offers no details that I could find about how the technologies Ze-gen is testing at its pilot plant in New Bedford, MA, overlap with the technologies covered by those patents. It merely asserts that Ze-gen’s pilot facility and patent applications are based on Quantum’s intellectual property.

Ze-gen’s attorneys—a team at Boston-based law firm Hanify & King led by Christopher Morrison—write that the Quantum complaint involves “the same nebulous, undefined glob of alleged trade secrets” that were at stake in … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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