Tate & Lyle owns a host of patent rights to the process for manufacturing sucralose and accused US and Chinese manufacturers of using its patented processes in a case filed in April 2007. An International Trade Commission (ITC) judge disagreed that any patents had been infringed in the preliminary determination in September, but a final ruling from the six-person Commission has been repeatedly postponed, and is now due on March 25.
JK Sucralose is looking to expand capacity at its plant in JiangSu, China to 300 metric tonnes, which it said is due to increasing demand for its sucralose, not only from its existing customers in the US and Europe, but also from emerging markets in South America and Asia.
CEO of JK Europe Leo Hokke said that company intends to increase capacity to 800 metric tonnes “which we will meet in 2011” but production in the past year stood at “about 200 tonnes.”
Hokke said that the decision to expand the facility had been made about seven months ago, prior to the judge’s preliminary ruling last September.
When asked what would happen if the Commission were to decide that Tate & Lyle’s patents have been infringed, he said: “The decision is of preeminent significance. We would have a problem if it didn’t come through… But I think this is no longer in our dictionary.”
JK’s voluntary involvement
JK Sucralose became involved in the Tate & Lyle case voluntarily in August 2007 in order to challenge the company’s claims over processing patents.
To clarify the situation, the company’s director and CEO Alex An told FoodNavigator-USA.com through an interpreter: “JK studied its own process and was so confident that its process did not infringe any patents that it decided to get involved voluntarily in the lawsuit. If we want to sell products to the US we had to have some kind of statement that we were not infringing patents, although of course it cost a lot of money…We already had the idea for the expansion plan a long time ago.”
The company has seven patents pending for its own sucralose processing methods in China, including four for which it has also applied for patent protection in the US.
Globally, the high intensity sweetener market is worth $1.3bn and sucralose is the number one sweetener by value in food, with a 36 percent share. North America is the world’s largest market for high intensity sweeteners and sucralose is the leader with a 48 percent share of the market.