The UK-based ingredient giant filed a lawsuit with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) two weeks ago in which it alleged patent infringement by three Chinese manufacturing groups and 18 companies involved in importing and distributing sucralose in the US. But one of the manufacturing groups Changzhou Niutang Chemical Plant, and its affiliated entity US Niutang Chemical, today issued a statement in response to the allegations. "Both Changzhou Niutang and US Niutang take these allegations very seriously, but we do not infringe on any of the patents asserted against us," said Mr Licheng Wang, Jr, general manager of Changzhou Niutang Chemical Plant. "We have always respected the intellectual property rights of others and will continue to do so. Tate & Lyle's claims against Changzhou Niutang and U.S. Niutang are without merit. We intend to vigorously defend against these allegations and are confident that we will be fully vindicated." The other manufacturers named in Tate & Lyle's filing are Hebei Sukerui Science and Technology (and its affiliated entities Hebei Province Chemical Industry Academe, and Hebei Research Institute of Chemical Industry) and Guangdong Food Industry Institute (and its affiliated entity L&P Food Ingredient). FoodNavigator.com has not seen any official response on the matter from these companies, nor the distributors. Tate & Lyle's move comes less than a year after a filing with the US Federal District Court against a Chinese manufacturing group and six importers of sucralose into the US. According to Tate & Lyle, the suit has so far resulted in "favorable settlements" with three of the defendants in the case. "As a next step after launching our federal case in 2006, we are now ready to proceed with this broader ITC Case and so extend our enforcement action to two more Chinese manufacturing groups, who have stolen our technology, as well as their distribution networks in the US," said Robert Gibber, general counsel of Tate & Lyle. The company has so far enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the sucralose market with its patented Splenda product. Any infringement of this would therefore represent a real threat to its core business. Tate & Lyle filed the original product sucralose patent in 1976. This recently expired, opening the product up to competitors. But firms have been reluctant to enter the market for fear of slipping up somewhere in the complex web of patents, and being slapped with astronomical legal fees and fines. In the same way, the food and beverage industry - both at manufacturing level and retail level - has not jumped at cheaper alternative sucralose products manufactured in China for fear of a legal backlash. A recent report by Freedonia revealed that the US sweetener market is poised to grow 4 percent per year, to reach over $1bn in 2010. And Frost & Sullivan estimates the European intense sweetener market will reach $362m in 2012.