It had been more than a month since Altair Nanotechnologies (Nasdaq: ALTI ) last issued a meaningless press release. The silence was so deafening, I was beginning to think that Altair's management might actually be focusing on the real work of building a company. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
My optimism was dampened earlier today, when company officials informed us that the U.S. Patent Office had graced them with U.S. Patent No. 6,974,566 -- a "Method For Producing Mixed Metal Oxides and Metal Oxide Compounds."
Like me, you're probably wondering why this "news" was so noteworthy that it warranted a press release. Apparently, a number of Altair's products, including titanium dioxide pigment, thermal coatings, and its nano-scale materials for lithium ion batteries, will benefit from this new process.
But like all releases, what is not said is often more important than what is. First off, there's no mention of how the new process will improve things. For instance, in the area of titanium dioxide production, there is no discussion of how the new process will allow Altair to successfully compete with DuPont's (NYSE: DD ) Titanium Technologies division, or Lyondell Chemical (NYSE: LYO ) . Nor does the press release explain how the new method will help the company wrestle a bigger share of the thermal-coatings market away from larger and more established producers of nanomaterials, such as Nanophase (Nasdaq: NANX ) .
Why doesn't the press release go into such detail? I suspect it's because the new process doesn't do squat, and it certainly doesn't make the company any more competitive. If it did, I'm naive enough to believe that company officials would mention that fact.
What about the new process's usefulness in making nanostructured materials for high-powered lithium ion batteries? Some of you may recall how Altair's stock skyrocketed to nearly $6 a share earlier this year, after company officials issued a press release touting that small Chinese manufacturer Advanced Battery Technologies (Nasdaq: ABAT.OB ) had signed a development agreement to use Altair's nanomaterials. In that light, you might be forgiven for thinking that this new method is the company's ace in the hole for radically improving its lithium battery technology.
Think again. Altair's stock has now plummeted nearly 70% from those previous highs. It will likely fall even further as word gets out that small, privately held A123Systems has unveiled its own lithium-ion battery technology, which delivers life cycles up to 10 times longer, packs in five times the power, and recharges in five minutes.
You see, unlike Altair, A123Systems actually issues meaningful press releases. A few weeks ago, company officials reported that its technology had been validated by independent testing at Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) . Even more impressive, the press release informed readers that A123Systems was delivering its first products to a real customer, Black & Decker (NYSE: BDK ) .
My advice to Altair officials: Hold off on the press releases until you actually have something concrete to report. Everything else is fluff -- and no amount of press releases can change that.
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Fool contributor Jack Uldrich has been thinking small since grade school. He is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including the forthcoming Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.