European Commission investigates DuPont and Honeywell practices in relation to new refrigerant

On 16 December 2011 the European Commission opened proceedings to investigate alleged anti-competitive practices relating to the development of a new generation refrigerant for air conditioning systems in cars, known as 1234yf. The new refrigerant will replace the previous refrigerant, R134a, which does not meet new EU rules with respect to its global warming potential.

Specifically, the Commission will investigate whether joint development, licensing and production arrangements between Honeywell and DuPont in relating to these refrigerants may infringe Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (“TFEU”).

The investigation further concerns Honeywell’s alleged deceptive conduct during the evaluation of 1234yf between 2007 and 2009.  In fact, the selection of 1234yf was the result of a process conducted under the auspices of the Society of Automotive Engineers, which represents the interests of all groups involved in the automotive sector.  According to the Commission, in the context of the standardization process, Honeywell did not disclose its patents and patent applications while the refrigerant was being assessed and later failed to grant licenses on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (so called “FRAND”) terms, allegedly in breach of Article 102 TFEU.

The Commission stresses that this investigation highlights the importance of ensuring that arrangements involving IP should contribute to innovation rather than hold it back, a message further underlined by Commissioner Almunia in a recent speech. [Gabriele Accardo]