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As Sany attempts to offset the dwindling sales the company is seeing in its home country of China by attracting new business here in the U.S., the company’s most aggressive tactic to date has landed it squarely in the sights of a lawsuit from Manitowoc Cranes.
The lawsuit, filed June 12 in Wisconsin, is accompanied by a a complaint of patent infringement before the International Trade Commission. We’ve reported on Sany’s official response to the suit and complaint, but let’s take some time to look at just what Manitowoc is alleging.
According to court documents, both the suit and complaint center on former Manitowoc and current Sany crane engineer John Lanning’s misappropriation of two patents dealing with counterweight systems that balance and allow crawler cranes to “be set up in completely different configurations for different purposes.”
Lanning, who faces a suit from Manitowoc himself for a breach of contract, spent 24 years at Manitowoc before accepting a job offer from Sany in 2010.
The documents state “Mr. Lanning helped frame Manitowoc Cranes’ patent strategies” and that he invented a design for a floating counterweight tray. Manitowoc alleges that Sany “offered Mr. Lanning a substantial salary increase over what he was being paid by Manitowoc Cranes” as part of a “coordinated effort” to steal trade secrets.
As the court documents lay out, Manitowoc uses a counterweight technology it refers to as Variable Position Counterweight (VPC) in its Model 31000 that allows the supercrane to operate with less counterweight and thus reduce operating cost.
Manitowoc alleges that Sany’s 550-ton SCC8500 crawler employs the same technology— though under the new name of Auto Counterbalance Equalization—thanks to the hire of Lanning.
Manitowoc explains in the lawsuit and complaint that the VPC technology allows the counterweights to be mobile, capable of moving forward and away from the boom of the crane, rather than stationary on the ground.
The Manitowoc complaint and lawsuit seek to ban the import and sale of the Sany SCC8500. According to the documents, Manitowoc currently has two more cranes in the pipeline that implement the VPC technology at the heart of the suit and complaint.