The European Union's antitrust watchdog is investigating whether U.S. companies Honeywell and DuPont are colluding to restrict rivals from producing a key refrigerant for car air-conditioning systems that meets new environmental standards.
The European Commission said Friday it has received complaints that the two companies entered into "development, licensing and production arrangements" that prevent rivals from also developing versions of a new refrigerant. The cooling fluid, known as 1234yf, is meant to be less damaging to the environment and the ozone layer than it predecessor R134a.
The European Union banned the use of R134a as a refrigerant as of 2011 and approved 1234yf as an alternative. The U.S. Environmental Protections Agency approved 1234yf in February, saying it had a significantly less negative effect on global warming than R134a.
But now the Commission is investigating whether Honeywell International Inc. is abusing its dominant position in the production of 1234yf and deceived authorities during the evaluation of the new refrigerant between 2007 and 2009.
The complainants claim that Honeywell did not inform authorities about patents related to the new refrigerant that it was already holding or applying for and later refused to license those patents to rivals under fair conditions, the Commission said.
The opening of a probe does not mean that Honeywell and DuPont, formally known as E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., actually broke EU law.
Sabine Chmielewski, a spokeswoman for Honeywell said the company "is confident that our practices are consistent with the law and that the Commission will conclude that we acted in full compliance with European Union competition rules."
Janet E. Smith, a spokeswoman for DuPont, said the company "will cooperate fully with this inquiry and is confident that the Commission will conclude that actions taken by DuPont complied with applicable laws."