By Holly Vance and Stephanie S. Liu
In Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc. v. The Dow Chemical Company, the Delaware Court of Chancery decided a dispute between two chemical companies that were parties to a joint development agreement. Akzo Nobel Coatings Inc. (“Akzo”) alleged, among other things, that The Dow Chemical Company, doing business as Dow Advanced Materials (“Dow”), wrongfully misappropriated intellectual property that belonged in part or in whole to Akzo and breached their joint development agreement. Dow moved to dismiss pursuant to Court of Chancery Rule 12(b)(6). The Court granted the motion in part and denied in part. Specifically, Akzo’s claims for declaratory judgment and breach of contract survived, but its alternative claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, conversion, and unjust enrichment were dismissed.
Akzo specializes in the design, manufacture, and sale of various chemical coatings, including protective coatings for food and beverage packaging and containers. Dow develops, manufactures, and sells polymeric materials, products, and technologies, including those suitable for use in coatings for food and beverage containers. In January of 2010, the parties executed a Joint Development Agreement (“JDA”) to combine the parties’ respective areas of expertise in pursuit of the development of new protective coatings for metal food and beverage packaging containers. Depending on the resulting invention, any given project under the JDA could either be wholly owned by one of the two parties or jointly owned. Dow terminated the JDA in October of 2011, and then communicated to Akzo in May of 2012 that it intended to file two patent applications relating to potential JDA inventions. In June of 2013, Akzo filed its complaint, asserting claims for: (1) a declaratory judgment regarding Akzo’s ownership rights under the JDA; (2) breach of contract and a permanent and mandatory injunction against Dow; (3) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (4) conversion; and (5) unjust enrichment. The Court reviewed the complaint under the reasonable “conceivability” standard, the governing pleading standard in Delaware to survive a motion to dismiss, which asks whether there is a “possibility” of recovery.