Ingredient firm Nutrinova and distributor Viachem have settled a patent infringement case related to the "unauthorized" import of sweetener acesulfame K into the United States.
According to Nutrinova, Viachem had been importing the ingredient in violation of a US patent held by the European firm.
Nutrinova's popular sweetener acesulfame potassium, also known as acesulfame K or Ace-K, claims to be around 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is currently widely used in food and beverage products globally following its approval in about 90 countries worldwide, including the US in1988 and the EU in 1983.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Viachem has agreed to stop selling the sweetener.
"It is Nutrinova's strategy to protect its intellectual property rights. We are very pleased that Viachem has decided to settle this matter with us," said Eckart von Haefen, president of Nutrinova in a statement yesterday.
Mike Efting, president of Viachem said: "It has always been our intent to respect patent rights (…) Based on information Nutrinova presented, we decided to stop our sales activities with respect to this product."
For a number of years, and through a flurry of court cases, Nutrinova has defended the patent for its high intensity sweetener. But the firm was still faced with challenges - including price erosion - associated with the expiration of an important patent for the production of Acesulfame K in March 2005.
In North America, that same process patent was valid in Canada until September 2007.
Nutrinova also said it holds two patents on the key intermediate of the manufacturing process of Acesulfame K, which are valid in the US until 2008 and 2009 respectively.
According to a report published by the Freedonia Group earlier this year, Acesulfame K, together with aspartame, are forecast to remain the leading products in diet soft drinks, due to their use in many of the top brands.
Prices for the two products are forecast to decline by around 1-2 percent annually over the next few years, a "gentle erosion" compared to the high single-digit declines that occurred after their patent protections fell off.