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Firms spend more time on court trials than product trials

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This is the time of year to review the happenings of the past 12 months. When looking through the collection of events that dotted the rubber industry landscape during 2013, it's hard not to notice the amount of time spent in court this past year.

The collection of cases covered deals gone bad, price-fixing, long-running infringement claims and environmental issues.

At the forefront was the battle over Apollo Tyres Ltd.'s proposed $2.5 billion purchase of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. The case stemming from troubles with the acquisition sits in court, and the deal remains incomplete.

Other court actions have gone across the oceans as well. China's Sino Legend (Zhangjiagang) Chemical Co. Ltd. and SI Group Inc. of the U.S. continued to wage a legal war over the rubber tackifier resins both make. Each firm tended to gain favorable rulings in its home nation.

And a French union chose Goodyear's hometown of Akron as the venue in which to sue the tire maker, claiming the firm violated French labor law in deciding to close a factory without informing the union.

On the price-fixing front, a jury found Dow Chemical Co. guilty of conspiring to fix prices for urethane chemicals, with the judge ordering the firm to pay $1.2 billion in damage. Dow has appealed the case, which has stretched on for more than eight years.

More than 20 companies—including Yamashita Rubber Co. Ltd. and Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd.—also admitted to price fixing charges. The Department of Justice thus far has levied close to $2 billion in fines.

All this just goes to show that the rubber industry is an ultra-competitive business. While some of the cases may stem from an honest difference of opinion, others can be attributed to that small minority of firms and executives who choose to circumvent the rules to seek any competitive edge possible.

Let's hope that those who do choose to deal honorably win out, and that the stories in our publication and website read less like a court blotter in 2014.