Photo by Tudor Van Hampton / ENR
Sany's SCC8500 crawler crane was on display at Conexpo 2014.

The U.S. International Trade Commission on April 16 ruled that China-based equipment maker Sany Heavy Industries violated patents and trade secrets held by Manitowoc related to the crane manufacturer's counterweight system. The complaint was first lodged with the ITC in July 2013, after Sany had introduced its SCC8500 crawler crane the previous year. The crawler crane has a movable counterweight tray that is similar to the ones used in Manitowoc's own crawler cranes.

The movable counterweight on Manitowoc and Sany cranes allows for an increase in lifting capacity without significantly increasing the crane's transport footprint and weight. The counterweight can extend outward from the crane's body to stabilize the crane in changing conditions.

"Our Variable Position Counterweight technology is a game changer in the industry," Manitowoc CEO and chairman Glen E. Tellock said in a press statement. "We are thrilled with the ITC's decision."

In its ruling, the ITC found that Sany violated Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930. Under the terms of the ITC's limited- exclusion and cease-and-desist orders, Sany Heavy Industries and its subsidiary Sany America are not permitted to import or sell the models of cranes that infringe on Manitowoc's patents or six of its trade secrets. The order also prevents Sany from advertising or marketing the cranes in the U.S. Sany America is permitted to sell the cranes it currently has, but only for export outside the U.S.

The dispute between the two companies over the counterweight technology dates back to 2010, when Sany hired veteran crane engineer John Lanning away from Manitowoc. Lanning was one of the inventors of the floating counterweight tray while at Manitowoc, and his name appears on one of the patents filed in 2008.

Sany representatives did not respond to requests for comments by ENR press time.

A federal civil lawsuit between Manitowoc and Sany is pending. Last December, a state court in Manitowoc County, Wis., in which Manitowoc sued Lanning for breaching his employment contract, entered an initial judgment against Lanning in the amount of $97,844.78. However, the judge's order is not binding, and the case is still pending, says John Murray, a lawyer at Lindner & Marsack who is representing Lanning.

"We do not believe John Lanning did anything unlawful, and we do not believe the restrictive convenant he has with Manitowoc is enforceable with Wisconsin law," Murray says.