European Patent Office: A pinch of mixed salt for Archroma as Blankophor lose optical brightener patent opposition

PatentThe European Patent Office (EPO) has ruled in favour of Archroma (Clariant) regarding an opposition filed by Blankophor against a patent filed for a mixed salt of an optical brightening agent. The patent in dispute is EP 2 260 145 B1 and the Archroma press release provides interesting detail: click here.

It is clear from the comments credited to Dr Bernd Hauschel that Blankophor are not happy with the decision and it is not difficult to agree with this viewpoint as the patent is creative in its case for proving it has an ‘inventive step’ – a general patentability requirement present in most patent laws, where an invention should be sufficiently inventive or ‘non-obvious’. The use of optical brighteners in the presence of most metal ions, or counter-ions, whether added to the paper making process or naturally present in the process is not new. It will be interesting to read the details of the EPO’s patent ruling.

Dr. Bernd Hauschel, Head of Technology and Intellectual Property at Blankophor GmbH, stated: “Even though we have a different view on the decision of the European Patent Office, we do respect their decision after we lost the opposition case against Archroma’s patent. For this reason, we decided to enter into a license agreement to avoid any infringement of the Archroma patent in the context regarding our products. We also like our patents to be respected.”

Archroma acquired the patent in the private equity purchase of the paper chemical business of Clariant and the intellectual property is owned by a company, Clariant Finance (BVI) Limited, Road Town, Tortola (VG), in the British Virgin Islands tax haven, despite the work being done by inventors based in Switzerland (formerly UK) and France.

Optical brightening agents are used in large quantities to improve the brightness or whiteness of paper and are sold to the paper industry for prices which generate low profit margins as the market is crowded with many manufacturers and suppliers competing for a market which is in decline in Europe and the USA and facing challenges in the rest of the world – let’s hope that this dispute did not erode the profits of the two companies.