Vladlen Zhitin, an unemployed engineer from Narva, has been trying for four years to win royalties for the use of technology he designed, which increases the working life of electricity generating turbines.
Erki Peegel, spokesman for Eesti Energia, the power plants' holding company, said that in 1988 Zhitin received a standard one-off royalty fee for his invention, which was adopted by power stations across the former Soviet Union, and is still recommended today by some turbine users.
Tallinn's Iru power plant currently pays Zhitin a fee for the use of his device.
Zhitin said the patent on the technology was renewed under Soviet law in 1991, but Narva Power Plants says there is no documentation to prove this and believes Soviet patents are not valid in Estonia.
"In 1997, I confirmed my copyright by applying for a second generation patent and informed the company it was violating the copyright," said Zhitin.
Zhitin alleges that an official at the Estonian Patent Bureau is in the pay of Narva Power Plants and has been helping the company fend off his claim.
Having had his claim rejected in the Estonian courts 14 times, it has now been accepted for consideration by the European Court of Human Rights.
In 1998 Estonia's Economy Ministry declined an offer by Zhitin to sell it the copyright.
Narva Power Plant's owners, Eesti Energia and NRG, are in the process of applying for a 4.5 billion kroon loan from foreign banks to help them renovate the plants. A negative outcome from Europe's human rights court could create a bad credit rating for them, since, in Zhitin's opinion, Estonia's speedy privatization of large industrial enterprises may lead to multiple copyright-related lawsuits as important patent issues are often ignored.