Umicore Confirmed to Infringe NMC Patents

22.12.2016 -

In its final determination, the full International Trade Commission (ITC) has ruled that Umicore infringed the patents of BASF and Argonne National Laboratory for nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode materials used in lithium-ion batteries. As a consequence, the Belgium-based company will be banned from importing either its batteries containing the specified NMC materials or the materials alone. The commission found also that Umicore contributed to its customers’ infringement.

ITC’s ruling confirms an earlier decision on the patent dispute, by its judge, Thomas B. Pender, brought in spring 2015 by the German chemical giant and its US partner, Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratory, which owns the technology. The judge also rejected Umicore's arguments that the patents are invalid and unenforceable. In its filing, BASF also claimed that Umicore had sold the technology to third parties, including the US arm of Japan's Makita Corporation.

Umicore’s principal argument was that its NMC materials are “single-phase,” rather than two-phase as the patents require. However, after hearing testimony from six scientific experts and considering transmission electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction analyses on Umicore’s NMC materials, Pender said he did not find the Belgian company’s argument credible.

At the time of filing, BASF said the patent breach had cost it billions of dollars in potential sales and deprived it of the ability to compete as a supplier for electric car platforms expected to be the German group’s Catalysts division, said it underscores that “Umicore has been competing unfairly in the market for NMC cathode materials. “

The technology was developed with investment aid from the US Department of Energy. In 2012, BASF commissioned a plant at Elyria, Ohio, to produce NMC cathode precursor materials. The group also conducts research and development on the battery materials in the state of Ohio.