GE files for patent protection of enhancement identification

General Electric, the company that developed the high-pressure high-temperature (HPHT) process that changes top-light-brown diamonds into D-E-F colorless diamonds, has released two of its international patent applications. These applications appear to exceed intellectual proprietary protection.

Some believe that General Electric wants to own the HPHT identification process, leaving the world’s diamond grading laboratories in violation of patent laws if they issue identification reports on HPHT-enhanced diamonds.

Significantly, the applications are dated Oct. 29, 1999-four months after the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) Symposium. At that Symposium, Lazare Kaplan-GE’s partner through its subsidiary, Pegasus Overseas Limited (GE POL)-claimed there was no way to identify these diamonds as treated. But GE knew the material could be identified.

In the meantime, the labs were searching for answers. De Beers published spectrum analysis in the spring of 2000, and last summer, GIA published laboratory procedures for identifying HPHT yellow-green color-enhanced diamonds. The Gübelin laboratory published results of a study that examined diamonds before and after HPHT treatment resulting in colorless diamonds. Until the Gübelin paper, Lazare Kaplan was claiming that the GE process was irreversible and still undetectable.

“The filing and publishing of the General Electric World Patent application for the detection of HPHT treatments has created, possibly unintentionally, a potential problem for every laboratory in the world that is called on to render an opinion on whether or not a stone has been HPHT treated,” says Marty Haske, gemologist and research scientist at Adamas Gemological Laboratory in Brookline, Mass. Haske worries that if the patent is issued, GE could sue labs for patent infringement and gain access to their clients’ confidential technical notes. He believes GE should make a public statement of its intentions. “Just the fact that screening techniques for Type IIa/IaB diamonds currently in use in many laboratories may or may not violate GE’s patent may preclude their very use unless General Electric publicly states its clear intention on what it intends to do with this patent,” he notes.

“I commend General Electric on their research, which resulted in new and beautiful products and which found new uses for previously industrial grade diamonds,” says Haske. “But I call on them to make the detection techniques public domain because of the problems their products have created for the industry as a whole.”

GIA president Bill Boyajian says GIA is aware of the patent application and will be considering the implications if the patent is awarded.

A General Electric spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

The patent applications (#WO0133203 and WO0114050) can be seen on the Internet at http://ep.espacenet.com.