Sympatex Technologies and W.L. Gore & Associates have become embroiled in a legal tussle about statements relating to Gore Fabrics' goals to remove any perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) of environmental concern from its products for outdoor gear.
As previously reported, Gore issued a statement in February in which it outlined goals to eliminate PFCs of environmental concern from its durable water repellent treatments and membrane manufacturing in two steps – targeting about 85 percent of product units by the end of 2020, and the remaining 15 percent between 2021 and 2023. The environmental impact of these chemicals has been at the center of a campaign conducted by Greenpeace, with a strong focus on the outdoor industry.
The goals were announced by Gore at Ispo Munich, jointly with Greenpeace, which described the move as a game-changer. Sympatex, which specializes in sustainable functional fabrics, issued a supportive statement at the time. However, the company apparently disapproved of the wording used by Gore around this topic, and went on to take legal action.
On April 12, Sympatex obtained an injunction from the district court of Hamburg under which Gore may no longer claim that its PTFE membrane would be environmentally-friendly, based on a broad environmental consensus, if it was produced without any PFCs of environmental concern – as outlined by Gore in the statement issued at Ispo Munich. Sympatex says that the injunction covers Gore's allegedly incorrect statement and that Greenpeace endorses the above view.
Sympatex claims that it asked Gore to withdraw the relevant statement, in vain, and thus resorted to legal action. The injunction is a provisional decision, which was taken without any oral proceedings, and which Gore may appeal.
However, on April 22, Gore itself obtained an injunction from the district court of Munich against Sympatex, relating to the press release issued by its rival about the first injunction. Sympatex then removed the press release, asking the media not to distribute it, and replaced it with an adjusted and more succinct version. According to Gore, Sympatex' initial press release had been regarded as unlawful by the Munich court.
Sympatex pointed out that the injunction obtained by Gore was issued without oral proceedings, and that it may appeal against it. The district court of Hamburg has yet to answer a query about the potential next steps.
Diverging opinions on what constitutes eco-friendliness have formed an underlying debate in the industry-wide discussion around PFCs in outdoor products. It has included considerations such as the relative environmental value of PFC-free membranes, the duration of usability and the level of maintenance required (or not) to ensure the protective performance of outdoor products.