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LEAD: Ajinomoto, ex-employee reach settlement over sweetener patent.

TOKYO, Nov. 19 Kyodo


Seasoning maker Ajinomoto Co. and a former employee reached a court-mediated settlement Friday of a dispute over the transfer of patents on the production method for the artificial sweetener aspartame, the company said.

In the settlement at the Tokyo High Court, Ajinomoto agreed to pay 150 million yen to Masayoshi Naruse, 63, who had demanded 690 million yen.

According to Naruse's attorney, it is the first suit over the transfer of patents to be settled through mediation and the amount is the largest ever paid for a patent transfer following conclusion of a lawsuit.

The court had been mediating between Ajinomoto and Naruse since both the company and the former employee filed an appeal against a Tokyo District Court ruling in February that ordered the company to pay 189.35 million yen to Naruse.

The company issued a written announcement saying it decided to agree to the settlement as it reflects its claims and as the payment amount was reduced by a considerable margin. Naruse said through his attorney that the settlement acknowledged his contribution was more than the company had originally insisted.

Naruse, a former head of the process development division of Ajinomoto's Central Research Laboratories, developed the production method for aspartame along with colleagues in 1982. Ajinomoto obtained 10 patents on the method in Japan, the United States, Canada and Europe.

The Feb. 24 district court ruling said Ajinomoto has earned about 7.97 billion yen from the production method and said Naruse's contribution accounted for 2.5 percent of that sum, ordering the company to pay Naruse an amount in accordance with his contribution.

Naruse had originally demanded 2 billion yen in his suit at the district court against his former employer.

Under in-house rules for remunerations for patent transfers, Ajinomoto provided Naruse and his colleagues with 12 million yen for the method in 2000. Of the sum, Naruse received 10 million yen.

In appealing the ruling, Ajinomoto said the court order did not reflect the ''contribution made by the company and Naruse's colleagues justly,'' while Naruse insisted the value of his contribution was more than 2.5 percent.

Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener about 200 times as sweet as sugar, occupying around 40 percent of the world's sweetener market. Ajinomoto has sold aspartame under the PalSweet brand and licensed other companies to use its production method.

The case follows a series of similar rulings that ordered companies to properly compensate employees for their inventions.

The patent law stipulates that employees who transfer patent rights for their inventions at work to their companies are entitled to receive an appropriate portion of profits as remuneration.

In January, the district court ordered chemical maker Nichia Corp., based in Anan, Tokushima Prefecture, to pay a record 20 billion yen to Shuji Nakamura, who developed the blue light-emitting diode while working at Nichia, for the transfer of his patent rights to the company.

The amount is larger than in Friday's case but the Nichia case is still pending as Nichia has appealed the ruling.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Nov 24, 2004
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