Alabama Judge Upholds Chemist’s $192 Million Award in Patent Theft Case

January 23, 2009

Global chemical giant Ineos Phenol, stung by a $192 million jury verdict, has denied stealing a hazardous waste recycling idea from a Mobile chemist and said it would appeal a judge’s order upholding the award.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Robert Smith last week upheld the verdict, which came in October against Ineos Americas LLC and Germany-based Ineos Phenol. The $192 million was awarded for compensatory damages that extend into the future.

The suit was filed in 2006 by retired Degussa Corp. president Sven Peter Mannsfeld of Mobile. Ineos Americas LLC owns a chemical plant south of Mobile in the Theodore Industrial Park, next to the plant that’s now called Evonik-Degussa.

In a statement released through company attorney James C. Johnston of Mobile, Ineos Phenol denied the lawsuit’s accusation that Phenolchemie, a firm it acquired in 2001, took Mannsfeld’s idea and patented it.

Ineos Phenol has 42 days from the date of the Mobile court’s order to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. The judge’s brief order, signed last Friday, rejected the company’s bid for a new trial.

Ineos Phenol officials said the verdict — $25 million in “historic” damages and $167 million in future damages through 2025 — should be set aside by the higher court and they were disappointed with Smith’s ruling.

Mannsfeld, 72, an immigrant from Germany who worked at Degussa for more than 30 years, claims Ineos Phenol profited by patenting his idea for a process that recycles phenol hazardous waste into building products for making tires and other items.

According to his lawsuit, he discovered in 2004 that his idea was being used under the patent in Germany, Belgium, the European Union and the United States.

Mannsfeld could not be reached for comment. But his attorney, George W. “Skip” Finkbohner III of Mobile, said Ineos Phenol had identified its own employees as the inventors, which was proven to be false at the trial.

“On the patent, there were five listed inventors — four still living — but none of them would say where the idea came from. They just admitted it wasn’t their idea,” Finkbohner said.

Jurors heard from more than 20 witnesses during the two-week trial.

Like most states, Alabama has a Trade Secrets Act that sets out civil remedies for the misappropriation of trade secrets. There is no governmental enforcement under that law, but rather it is enforced by civil lawsuits brought by individuals or businesses.

Another Mannsfeld attorney, Robert T. Cunningham, described the jury’s verdict as one of the top 10 verdicts awarded in the United States in 2008 involving individual plaintiffs.

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