Tar Heel Tattler - April 2005

Scratch that – handshake deal turns into a fistfight
By Arthur O. Murray

Maybe they should have seen it coming. After all, executives of Kannapolis-based Pro-Tint Inc. and Charlotte-based United Packaging & Industrial Inc. were trying to adapt a product to help military helicopter pilots see through their windshields better. But the two companies flew blindly on a collision course created by their informal partnership.

At stake: millions of dollars in defense and commercial contracts for a product that could have applications on any aircraft. Neither side is talking — to each other or to journalists. But Pro-Tint wants a Superior Court judge to bar United Packaging and a subsidiary, United Protective Technologies, from filling orders until the courts determine whether Pro-Tint is entitled to a share of the proceeds.

The story starts in 1997, when Steve Fricker — vice president and part-owner of Pro-Tint, which also installs tinted windows in buildings and automobiles — started selling sheets of transparent polyester windshield covers to stock-car racing teams. NASCAR had ordered them to replace glass windshields with shatterproof plastic. But grit and other debris quickly nicked the plastic. Fricker’s coverings protected it. When the top sheet became nicked or soiled, it could be torn off — free sheets to the wind — leaving a clear surface. Most top NASCAR teams use the coverings.

In 2001, defense agencies asked Pro-Tint about using the sheets. The following year, United Packaging representatives, who said they had experience with military contracts, suggested a collaboration to refine the sheets and to market and sell them, according to Pro-Tint’s request for a preliminary injunction.

Pro-Tint and United Packaging orally agreed at the time that “each would contribute its respective expertise” to create a third company, United Protective Technologies, to manage the project. But when the company was incorporated in July, Pro-Tint wasn’t listed as an owner. Still, it continued working with United. It did likewise in 2003 after rejecting a written agreement that would have given it half the profits but, it says, ceded control to United. The military approved the sheets in late 2004, Pro-Tint says.

In mid-January, United’s lawyers sent Pro-Tint a letter telling it to stop claiming that it was part of the project. Pro-Tint says United planned to begin filling orders a month later.

In its motion, Pro-Tint seeks a share of the project’s profits, damages and acknowledgement of its role in the product. As of early March, no hearing had been set. And it didn’t look as if either side could see its way to a compromise.