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WILMINGTON, DE — They haven’t been on the market very long; that’s part of the problem with generically labeled (no brand name) 400 blend refrigerants that have begun appearing in the U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration markets.
Some wholesalers may be offering them to contractor customers as less-expensive alternatives to 400 blends with brand names from DuPont, Honeywell, and INEOS (formerly ICI Klea). However, these contractors and wholesalers could pay a steep price in legal fees if they are found guilty of what amounts to violating U.S. patent laws, according to Jay Kestenbaum, president of Refron Inc., Long Island City, NY.
“The 400 blends are all patented,” he explained. “It’s not the same as R-12 and -22, whose patents have run out.”
A Word to the Wise Is SufficientIn an opening salvo, DuPont Fluoroproducts here in Wilmington has begun notifying its distribution network of “possible unauthorized marketing and distribution of certain aftermarket refrigerant blends in the United States.”
The company is asking its distributors to “advise contractors and equipment owners to verify that their purchases of such products are in accordance with U.S. patent laws.”
The refrigerant blends in question include R-414A, -402A, -402B, -401A, -401B, -507, -408A, -409A, -410A, and -407C. They are sold by DuPont under the Suva® brand name; by INEOS as Klea®; by Carrier as Puron®; and by Honeywell as Genetron®.
DuPont stated that it believes these refrigerant blends sold in generic packaging are being imported into the United States and sold as generic or off-brand refrigerants by suppliers who may not be authorized to conduct such business in the United States, thereby violating U.S. patent laws.
Consequently, the company is asking distributors to advise contractors and equipment owners to verify, via certification or letter of indemnification, that the refrigerants in question are sold to them under appropriate patent licenses or other authorization.
“This DuPont action reflects its support for strong, industry-wide patent stewardship and is intended to help protect our business and that of our partners in the supply chain,” stated Jim Bachman, U.S. refrigerants sales and marketing manager for DuPont Fluoroproducts, in an industry announcement.
“Wholesalers, contractors, and equipment owners have a right to know that the products they are marketing and using do not infringe U.S. patents.
“Furthermore, companies that have made significant investments in the research and development of new products have the right to reasonable returns on their investments, especially during the period their products are covered by patents.”
AccountabilityKestenbaum commented that “Nowadays, everything is sourced worldwide.” However, when these refrigerant products are shipped in generic cartons, “You’re camouflaging who made it,” he said. “You’re hiding the source of it.”
The intent, said Kestenbaum, is to “Source the product overseas and bring it in cheaper. There have been reports of [the sale of] generic box cylinders. The only reason for generic boxes would be to have generic product overseas.”
A contractor using it might be in violation of U.S. patent laws. A wholesaler selling the product could be, too. “DuPont is warning people so they don’t have an excuse; they can’t say they didn’t know,” said Kestenbaum.
Similar to illegal refrigerant smuggling, when a contractor buys the generic refrigerant, he doesn’t know what he’s getting or who made it. “Be careful where you buy,” warned Kestenbaum.
Generic labeling means “It’s a suspect product,” he added. “There is not enough coming in yet for reclaim,” for reclaimed product to be circulating in generic boxes.
“Force your wholesalers to be aware of it,” he said. If the wholesaler wants to sell generic boxes of 400 blend refrigerants, ask for paperwork showing its origin — essentially what DuPont is asking contractors and system owners to do. Protect yourself and your business. “Larger wholesalers know about it,” said Kestenbaum; “smaller wholesalers may not.”
While DuPont is the first to come out with this type of statement to protect its patents, Kestenbaum said he expects Honeywell and INEOS to follow suit.
And while there are no reports of accidents from generically labeled blends, Kestenbaum urged contractors to exercise caution. If you don’t know where the refrigerant came from, he said, a contractor should always assume that there were “suspect filling procedures.”
But the main problem for contractors and wholesalers dealing with generically packaged 400 blends, he said, is the very real risk of legal action.
For more information, contact your refrigerant supplier.
Sidebar: R-125’s Supply Puts Pressure on BlendsAccording to Refron Inc.’s e-mail newsletter, The Refron Reporter™, the refrigeration market has been moving toward widespread use of blends R-402A, -402B, -408A, -407C, and R-410A.n All of these blends use R-125, which has been in tight supply since last October.
INEOS (formerly ICI Klea) has begun limited production of 125 in the U.K., and Honeywell has begun construction of a new U.S. plant, which is expected to open mid-2002, according to the refrigerant reclaim company. “Until then, supply will be tight.
“There have already been two manufacturer price increases in the last three months on all of the blends containing 125, and we expect continued price pressure through next year.”