EPA and Commodities Commission Cooperate to Fight Biofuels Greenwashing

April 26th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

EPA and CFTC

Previous posts (e.g., here, here, here, and here) have covered a rash of fraudulent biofuels credits schemes in which companies falsely claim to produce biofuels and sell fake credits on the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) market.

A RIN is a numeric code generated by a renewable fuel producer or importer that represents a gallon of renewable fuel, and certain “obligated parties” in the fuel industry and related businesses can acquire RINs as a way to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard Program.

There have been a number of such schemes exposed over the last few years, and some of the individuals perpetrating them prosecuted and punished.

According to a spokesman for a biodiesel trade group quoted in this StarTribune article, the RIN scams have hurt the biofuels industry by making obligated parties more wary of purchasing the credits from biodiesel producers.

The EPA has been taking steps to mitigate this problem, including in 2014 promulgating additional regulations to ensure oversight of RIN generation and improve the RIN market (see the story here on Biofuels Digest).

Now the EPA is teaming with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in an attempt to improve regulation and enforcement of RINs and renewable fuels markets.  The two agencies recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to share information and provide inter-agency advice.

In particular, the EPA will share its information on RINs and renewable fuels markets while the CFTC will advise the EPA on oversight and enforcement to reduce fraud:

The Parties intend to coordinate, cooperate and share information . . . in the possession of the EPA with regard to the RIN and renewable fuels markets in connection with the respective regulatory and enforcement responsibilities of the Parties. . . .The CFTC . . . will use the information to advise EPA on techniques that could be employed to minimize fraud, market abuses or other violations, and to conduct appropriate oversight in RIN and renewable fuel markets to aid EPA in successfully fulfilling the EPA’s statutory functions under [the] Clean Air Act . . .”

Let’s hope this inter-agency cooperation will succeed in reducing biofuels credits greenwashing.

Federal Circuit Shows Deference to USPTO in Ruling Against Cree LED Patent

April 19th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

A Green Patent Complaint Update from fall 2014 discussed one of the patent lawsuits between Cree and Harvatek in which Cree asserted several patents relating to white light LED technology.

One of those patents – U.S. Patent No. 6,600,175, entitled “Solid state white light emitter and display using same” (‘175 Patent) – was the subject of an ex parte reexamination proceeding in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

During the reexam, Cree added six claims to the patent.  The new claims  at issue are directed to the production of white light through “down-conversion” of blue light from LEDs.  Down conversion means absorbing high energy (shorter wavelength) light and re-emitting it as lower energy (longer wavelength) light to produce light of a desired wavelength, i.e., color.

The patent examiner rejected those claims as obvious over multiple combinations of prior art references including three particular patent references, and the USPTO’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) affirmed the examiner’s reasoning and conclusion.

In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, showing much deference to both the examiner and the PTAB, rejected all of Cree’s arguments on appeal and affirmed the PTAB’s obviousness holding.

The claims of the ‘175 Patent at issue recited an LED having a “down-converting luminophoric medium for down-converting the radiation emitted by the light-emitting diode to a polychromatic white light…”  In lighting applications, luminophoric materials are commonly called phosphors.

The primary prior art references were the Pinnow patent, which discloses a display system that creates black and white images using a blue laser and appropriate phosphors and explains how to make white light by down conversion; the Stevenson patent, which discloses LED light that may be converted to lower frequencies with good conversion efficiency using organic and inorganic phosphors; and the Nakamura patent, which discloses a gallium nitride (GaN) LED that emits a blue light that was brighter than similar, previously developed LEDs.

In the reexam, the examiner found it would have been obvious to substitute the LED of Stevenson with either the known UV light emitting or blue light emitting GaN-based LED in Nakamura, and this would be a simple substitution of one known element for another to gain the predictable result of brighter emission by the phosphors.

The PTAB agreed with the examiner’s reasoning and conclusion that the combination of Stevenson, Pinnow, and Nakamura rendered the ‘175 Patent claims obvious:

[T]he combined teachings of Stevenson, Pinnow, and Nakamura would have suggested to an artisan of ordinary skill to use a blue LED on a single die to create white light via “down-conversion” because Nakamura’s blue LED is more powerful than Stevenson’s older, less-efficient LED in terms of power and brightness and, as such, is more suitable with a “down-conversion” process to product white light…

According to the PTAB, the invention of the ‘175 Patent is “nothing more than a new application of a high-power, high-brightness blue LED developed by Dr. Nakamura in late 1993.”

The Federal Circuit opinion does not add much analysis to that of the patent examiner and the PTAB.  Rather, it is essentially a series of refutations of Cree’s arguments on appeal.  Throughout, the appeals court consistently defers to the PTAB’s conclusions.

In response to Cree’s contention that the Board erred by by assuming that it was disclosed in a single prior art reference (Pinnow) to make white light from a monochromatic LED through down conversion, the court said Pinnow provided, according to the Board, a general disclosure of down conversion for creating white light, which was “a perfectly reasonable conclusion.”

Cree also argued that the Board misread the declarations of Cree’s experts.  Again, the Federal Circuit found the conclusion the Board drew from the expert testimony that down conversion was a known solution for generating white light from a blue LED was “reasonable” and “supported by substantial evidence.”

Cree further argued that neither the examiner nor the Board articulated a rational motivation to combine the teachings of Pinnow, Stevenson, and Nakamura.  The court again disagreed, finding the Board “provided a sufficient, non-hindsight reason to combine the references.”

Perhaps one lesson here, though not really news, is to make sure to present all of your best arguments and evidence in the lower tribunals and not count on the appellate process to bail you out.

With New Lawsuits Against VW Greenwashing Focus Shifts to Consumers

April 12th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

ftc_logo_430

Previous posts (here and here) discussed the Volkswagen emissions scandal in which the German automaker intentionally programmed a number of its diesel vehicles to activate emissions controls only during testing.

The vehicles’ software allowed the nitrogen oxide (NOx) output to satisfy U.S. emissions standards during testing while producing much higher emissions during actual driving conditions.

A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil complaint against Volkswagen seeking injunctive relief and monetary penalties for the German automaker’s actions.  That lawsuit was filed at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and focused on the deception around the government testing.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. government’s consumer protection and competition watchdog, sued Volkswagen on behalf of American consumers for false advertising in connection with the emissions scandal.  According to the complaint, the FTC brought this action:

…in connection with Defendant’s false advertising that its “Clean Diesel” vehicles had low emissions, complied with state and federal emissions standards, were environmentally friendly, and retained a high resale value.

The complaint details VW’s extensive advertising campaign directed at “progressive and “environmentally-conscious” consumers touting “diesel’s environmental and economic advantages.”  This advertising including a Super Bowl ad and other nationally-televised spots, a social media campaign, print advertising,and other marketing statements such as:

  • print advertising including the slogan “Diesel – It’s No Longer A Dirty Word”
  • a 2009 promotional mailer claiming the Jetta TDI Clean Diesel engine is “designed to reduce emissions”
  • a press release for the 2014 Touareg stating that the “deNOx diesel converter . . . helps reduce NOx emissions by up to 90 per cent”

The FTC alleges that VW’s marketing strategy materials indicated that one of the “key messages” it intended to convey through the word “clean” was that its “Clean Diesel” vehicles produce “NOx emissions [that are] reduced by 95 percent[.]”

Furthermore, according to the complaint, VW’s advertisements and marketing materials also falsely claimed that its vehicles complied with state and federal emissions standards.  Some of those materials included statements such as “Clean Diesel” vehicles “meet the strictest EPA standards in the U.S.”

Additional advertising claims at issue included statements that the vehicles are “environmentally-conscious,” “eco-conscious,” or “green” and that the “Clean Diesel” vehicles would have a higher resale value than comparable gasoline vehicles.

Among other causes of action, the FTC alleges that these and other advertising and marketing statements constitute unfair or deceptive practices in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act that have caused substantial injury to consumers, who have “spent billions purchasing or leasing” VW vehicles.

The FTC is requesting that the court enter a permanent injunction to prevent future violations and other equitable relief to refund the monies paid by consumers for the vehicles at issue.

In addition to the feds, the states are starting to get involved as well.  The attorney general of Kentucky filed a similar false advertising lawsuit against VW, alleging violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act (see story here).

 

EV Startup: You Can’t Have Our Patents!

April 1st, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

Bucking the recent trend of donating patents relating to electric vehicle technology, EV startup Whisker Electric announced that it would maintain its patents as private intellectual property.

In a statement made today, the company’s CEO, Waylon Tusk, had this to say:

Whisker is totally committed to protecting, defending, and enforcing its intellectual property.  Accordingly, we will not donate any of our patents.  We are very paranoid about big car companies copying our technology.  So we’re going to sue anyone who tries to use our technology in good faith, bad faith, or any other faith.  We don’t care what this may mean for the development of the electric vehicle industry.

“You can’t have our patents!  You can’t even license them!  I don’t care how much you want them or how much you’re willing to pay!” added CTO and Co-founder Norm Bradelson in a surprisingly testy conference call with reporters today.

The news from Whisker is in sharp contrast to a recent string of announcements by EV maker Tesla and two major automobile manufacturers either completely opening their EV and related patent portfolios or opening them for no fee licensing or paid licensing.

However, the reaction has been swift and positive, with the company receiving multiple unsolicited offers of major funding rounds from respected VC firms within minutes of Whisker’s announcement.

In addition, Whisker’s VP of Business Development, Austin Milbarge, told Green Patent Blog that over 10,000 new pre-orders have been made today for the company’s latest model EV.

The company has also received a flood of job applications from young engineers, including some current and former Tesla employees, particular those that were named inventors on Tesla’s patents.

The news even made it into the American presidential campaign when a reporter asked Donald Trump, the front runner for the Republican nomination, his view of Whisker’s announcement.  Trump responded, “I like these guys.  This is my kind of selfish, short-sighted capitalism.  Though personally I prefer to drive a Hummer.”

Thomas Jefferson School of Law IP Symposium to Examine AIA Aftershocks

March 25th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

tjsl

For IP mavens who live in Southern California and those of you who may be in town next week, Thomas Jefferson School of Law in downtown San Diego is hosting a symposium on post-grant proceedings under the America Invents Act.

Entitled “Aftershocks of the AIA’s Post Grant Proceedings:  Its Advocates & Critics,” the symposium will be held on Friday, April 1, 2016.

In what has become a much anticipated annual event, Professor Randy Berholtz and his students have again put together a fabulous program on a hot button IP issue.

The symposium will focus on whether the new post-grant review process and other provisions of the AIA are actually solving the problems they were intended to solve and discuss other issues relating to the AIA:

[The AIA’s] intention to invalidate bad patents and encourage innovation for the benefit of the general public has solved some problems its predecessor has left in its wake.  However, the AIA is not without its own problems.  This project aims to present recommendations to close the gap in pursuing a fairer and expedited patent review systems.

There are too many speakers to list here, but notable ones include:

Gregg Anderson, Administrative Patent Judge for the USPTO

Hon. Cathy Ann Bencivengo, Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

Hon. Paul R. Michel (Ret.), U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Gene Quinn, Patent Attorney and President of IPWatchdog.com

The event is approved for 6 hours of MCLE credit.  Full information on the symposium can be found here and registration info is here.

Texas Biofuel Tax Credit Fraudster Gets Jail Time

March 22nd, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

In one of the “Greenwashing 2.0” stories we’ve been following (see here and here), an individual recently was sentenced to over 10 years in jail for his role in running a fraudulent biofuel tax credits scheme.

A Texas federal judge sentenced Philip Joseph Rivkin to 121 months in prison and ordered him to pay more than $87 million in restitution and forfeit $51 million.

Last year, Rivkin, which is not the individual’s real name, pleaded guilty to making a false statement under the Clean Air Act and to mail fraud for his role in the scheme, which included attempts to defraud the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the plea agreement, he admitted that he falsely generated renewable fuel credits between July 2010 and July 2011 and sold them to oil companies and brokers, generating over $29 million.

Rivkin was indicted in 2014 for allegedly selling fraudulent renewable identification numbers (RINs).  The indictment alleged that an individual using the name Philip Joseph Rivkin controlled and operated Green Diesel LLC and claimed that the company produced millions of gallons of biodiesel at its Houston facility then generated and sold about 45 million RINs based on the claim.

However, according to the indictment, Green Diesel did not actually produce any biodiesel at its facility, and the defendant allegedly made millions of dollars selling the fraudulent RINs.

Because the fraudulent activity in this case did not involve individual green consumers and consumer products such as water bottles, cleaning supplies, or hybrid vehicles, this would not typically be thought of as a greenwashing case.  But the fraudulent activity does represent a serious instance of greenwashing.

The fraud and resulting damage are recognizable when we view the putative RIN purchasers as green consumers, albeit commercial consumers instead of individuals, falling victim to false representations about the validity of renewable energy-based financial products.

A number of fraudulent biodiesel schemes have been perpetrated in the last few years.  But the authorities have been successful in exposing them and prosecuting the individuals involved.  Some individuals were sentenced to jail time last year in a similar case in Florida.

In view of the proliferation of fraudulent RIN schemes, the EPA has promulgated additional regulations to ensure oversight of RIN generation and improve the RIN market.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

March 15th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

A number of new patent infringement lawsuits were filed in January and February in the areas of electric vehicle charging, LEDS, smart grid, and solar battery phone cases.

 

Electric Vehicle Charging

Technology for Energy Corporation v. Hardy et al.

In a lawsuit against a former employee, Technology for Energy alleges various breach of contract claims, breach of an employment agreement, and requests a declaratory judgment of patent invalidity and unenforceability.  The complaint was filed February 22, 2016 in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 9,020,771, entitled “Devices and methods for testing the energy measurement accuracy, billing accuracy, functional performance and safety of electric vehicle charging stations” (‘771 Patent).

The ‘771 Patent is directed to an instrument for testing electric vehicle charging stations (EVCS).  Energy delivery from the EVCS to the load is monitored by the instrument to determine energy measurement and billing accuracy of the EVCS.

 

LEDs

Harvatek Corporation v. Cree, Inc.

This is the third lawsuit between these two LED makers involving white LED lighting technology (see previous posts here and here).

Filed January 26, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Harvatek’s complaint accuses Cree of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,841,934 (‘934 Patent).

The ‘934 Patent is entitled “White light source from light emitting diode” and is directed to an LED white light source that emits short wavelength color light.  The LED has a split metal substrate and a fluorescent glue that covers the LED chip and converts the short wavelength color light into white light.

Harvatek alleges that Cree’s CLM1 Series LED products infringement the ‘934 Patent.

 

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Sea Gull Lighting Products LLC et al.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. Hyperikon, Inc.

Lighting Science Group Corporation v. U.S.A. Light & Electric, Inc.

Lighting Science Group (LSG) filed three patent infringement lawsuits in late February, all in federal court in Orlando.

The complaint against Sea Gull was filed February 25, 2016 and asserts U.S. Patent No. 8,201,968 (‘968 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 8,967,844 (‘844 Patent).  The accused products are Sea Gull’s Traverse Collection and Traverse II Collection products.

The complaint against Hyperikon was filed February 26, 2016 and alleges that Hyperikon’s LED Downlight products infringe the ‘844 Patent and U.S. Patent No. 8,672,518 (‘518 Patent).

Also filed February 26, 2016, the complaint against U.S.A. Light & Electric asserts the ‘968, ‘844, and ‘518 Patents and alleges that the defendant’s Recessed LED Downlight products infringe the patents-in-suit.

Entitled “Low profile light,” the ’968 Patent is directed to a luminaire including a heat spreader and a heat sink disposed outboard of the heat spreader, an outer optic securely retained relative to the heat spreader and/or the heat sink, and an LED light source.

The ‘518 Patent and the’ 844 Patent are entitled “Low profile light and accessory kit for the same” and relate to LSG’s disc light LED devices.

 

Lexington Luminance LLC v. Samsung Electronics Co. et al.

In a complaint filed February 25, 2016 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, Lexington Luminance accused Samsung of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,936,851 (‘851 Patent).

The ‘851 Patent is entitled “Semiconductor light-emitting device and method for manufacturing the same” and is directed to LEDs having textured districts on the substrate such that inclined layers guide extended defects to designated gettering centers in the trench region where the defects combine with each other.  This structure reduces the defect density of the LEDs.

The complaint lists a host of Samsung products including a number of Galaxy smartphones.

 

Smart Grid

Endeavor MeshTech, Inc. v. Rajant Corporation

Endeavor MeshTech (a wholly-owned subsidiary of patent monetization firm Endeavor IP) sued Rajant in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on January 4, 2016.

The complaint accuses Rajant of infringing three patents in a family – U.S. Patent Nos. 7,379,981 (‘981 Patent),  8,700,749 (‘749 Patent), and 8,855,019 (‘019 Patent), each entitled “Wireless communication enabled meter and network.”

The patents-in-suit relate to a self-configuring wireless network including a number of vnodes and VGATES.

The accused products and services include Rajant’s BreadCrumb Wireless Nodes, InstaMesh Networking Technology, CacheCrumb, and Mesh Antennas.

 

Dipl.-In. H. Horstmann GmbH v. Smart Grid Solutions, Inc.

Horstman, a German company, filed this lawsuit against Smart Grid Solutions (SGS) in federal court in Atlanta, Georgia.

Filed on January 12, 2016, the complaint accuses SGS of trade dress infringement and various deceptive trade practices, as well as infringement of U.S. Patent No. D578,478 (‘478 Patent), a design patent entitled “Fiber optic cable.”

The ‘478 Patent protects Horstmann’s fiber optic cable design with each end including a semi-transparent curved end attached to the cable and a ribbed segment terminating at a flange.

Horstman alleges that SGS’s E-Scout FI-3C Underground Fault Indicator product infringes the ‘478 Patent.

 

JSDQ Mesh Technologies LLC v. Teco Energy, Inc. et al.

On February 2, 2016, JSDQ filed suit against Teco Energy and Tampa Electric Company, alleging infringement of four patents relating to wireless routing systems used in smart grid networks.

The patents-in-suit are U.S. Patent Nos. 7,286,828 and 7,916,648, both entitled “Method of Call Routing and Connection,” RE43,675 entitled “Wireless Radio Routing System,” and RE44,607 entitled, “Wireless Mesh Routing Method.”

JSDQ alleges that Teco and Tampa Electric infringe the patents-in-suit because of their deployment of wireless mesh networking systems that incorporate Trilliant’s SecureMesh broadband mesh network.

JSDQ filed a similar infringement suit against Silver Spring and Pepco in September last year.

 

Solar Battery Phone Cases

iPowerUp Inc. v. Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc.

iPowerUp sued Ascent Solar Technologies (AST) for alleged infringement of two patents relating to solar battery charging cases for mobile phones.

The complaint was filed February 12, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The asserted patents are U.S. Patent No. 8,080,975, entitled “Portable and universal hybrid-charging apparatus for portable electronic devices” (‘975 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 8,604,753, entitled “Method of distributing to a user a remedy for inadequate battery life in a handheld device” (‘753 Patent).

The ‘975 Patent is directed to a modular hybrid-charger assembly comprising a rechargeable internal battery connected to a port operable to function as a tetherless connection to a portable electronic device and a device holder having a framework operable to receive, hold, and release the portable electronic device.  The ‘753 Patent claims methods relating to use of the hybrid-charger assembly of the ‘975 Patent.

The accused products are AST’s Enerplex Surfr and Enerplex Surfr Amp cases for the iPhone 6/6s and the Enerplex Surfr for iPhone 5/5s.

Should Patent Policies Be Used to Stifle Fossil Fuel Innovation?

March 9th, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

Greentech Media covered a new report that looked at the kinds of market forces we would need to effectively move from fossil fuels to renewables.

Entitled “Will We Ever Stop Using Fossil Fuels?”, the report concludes that technology-driven cost reductions will lead us to continue to use fossil fuels for many years.

One important point raised by the study is that the analytical framework used to compare the cost of renewables versus the cost of fossil fuels is flawed.

Specifically, you can’t only look at the cost of renewable energy technologies over time or even at the cost of renewable energy compared to the current cost of fossil fuel extraction because, like renewables, the costs of conventional carbon-based technologies are likely to go down over time as well.

The GTM piece quoted a University of Chicago economics professor named Michael Greenstone, a co-author of the study, about innovation in fossil fuel extraction keeping pace with green tech innovation:

There’s been tremendous innovation with low-carbon energy, but what’s often missed is that there’s been tremendous innovation in bringing down the cost in fossil fuel recovery.

While promoting innovation in green technologies, should we simultaneously be stifling innovation in fossil fuel technologies?

Some academics think so.  In a guest post on this blog, Professor Matthew Rimmer of the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia posited that it might be time for “patent law to become fossil fuel free.”

Professor Estelle Derclaye of the University of Nottingham has suggested that “patent offices could either not grant patents for any invention which emits CO2 or make a cost-benefit analysis in terms of the value of the invention for society and the levels of CO2 emitted.”

While I’m generally opposed to implementing different patentability regimes across technology areas and excluding specific technologies from patenting, I believe that some aspects of the patent process, such as procedural rules and fees, could be adjusted in an attempt to achieve certain policy goals.

I’ve previously suggested (see here and here) a harmonized fast track program for green technology patent applications.  This “Global Green Patent Highway” would not alter substantive patentability standards, but would provide a smooth and internationally coordinated expedited examination procedure for patent applications directed to inventions that confer a “material environmental benefit” so green patents are granted faster.

Perhaps we should take the opposite tack and consider procedural changes or fee structures that would make it more burdensome to patent technologies directly relating to activities that increase carbon emissions.

In light of this report, maybe now is the time to slow fossil fuel patenting.

Trademark Board Eliminates CARBON ELIMINATOR Application

March 1st, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

In yet another example of eco-mark applicants struggling with descriptiveness, a trademark application for CARBON ELIMINATOR for a “non-chemical enzyme fuel additive” recently went down as merely descriptive of the goods.

After the Examining Attorney refused registration of the mark, Star-Brite Distributing, Inc. (Star-Brite) appealed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board).

Under U.S. trademark law, a mark that is merely descriptive of the goods or services it is being used to market or sell is not registrable on the Principal Register because that would restrict competitors from conveying information about their goods or services.  A merely descriptive mark is one that immediately conveys to consumers the nature of the goods or services.

A major problem for Star-Brite was that the product packaging states that CARBON ELIMINATOR “removes tough carbon deposits” (see below).

Carbon Eliminator

In addition, a product description submitted as a specimen in the application said the product “uses enzyme technology to remove carbon, gum and varnish deposits.”

Based on the packaging and description, the Board found the mark descriptive of what the product actually does:

[A]s Applicant’s specimen and product packaging make clear, Applicant’s enzyme fuel additive eliminates carbon engine deposits.

Star-Brite argued that the term “carbon” does not describe an enzyme fuel additive and the associated chemical reaction and that CARBON ELIMINATOR is a double entendre because the product reduces carbon dioxide emissions of hydrocarbon fuel-burning engines.

The Board disagreed, explaining that CARBON ELIMINATOR is descriptive of the “purpose and and result of that biochemical reaction” and noting that all meanings of the alleged “double entendre” are nonetheless merely descriptive.

The Board concluded that the mark as a whole does not convey “any distinctive source-identifying impression contrary to the descriptiveness of the individual parts.”

Finally, the Board stated that consumers would view the mark as simply signaling what the product does and, re-stating a principal policy of descriptiveness law, noted that competitors ought to be able to use the terms to describe similar products:

On this record, it is clear that consumers familiar with Applicant’s goods would immediately understand, upon seeing Applicant’s proposed mark, that the fuel additive removes carbon deposits.  Furthermore, Applicant’s competitors who also offer products which remove deposits should, like Applicant, have the opportunity to use the term “carbon eliminator” or variations thereof to explain the purpose of their products.

What’s New on the EPA’s Reading List? Pesticide Patents

February 23rd, 2016 by Eric Lane No comments »

In what seems to be a novel way of exploiting the public disclosure function of patent applications, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently began reviewing applications for pesticides in connection with the agency’s disclosure requirements and enforcement actions.

As discussed in this article by Lawrence Culleen, an environmental lawyer at the Arnold & Porter law firm, makers of pesticides are required to inform the EPA of potential adverse effects of certain chemicals and products.

In a recent lawsuit objecting to its decision to register a pesticide, EPA officials found additional details in patent filings showing that the chemical components of the product could have a synergistic effect such that the product might more effectively control unwanted weeds.

This information about the combination of active ingredients, the article says, may be relevant to the agency’s product registration terms, approval of instructions for use, application rates, and warnings, and suggests that the product might have adverse effects on “non-target organisms.”

The type of information the EPA officials discovered is fairly common in patent applications and related documents submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  In attempting to demonstrate the patentability of an invention, applicants sometimes point to data that they argue show “unexpected results” or levels of effectiveness significantly better than state of the art products.

Pharmaceutical and chemical patent applications, in particular, often provide multiple examples of compositions or solutions and testing data showing their effectiveness.

The interesting question is whether the EPA (or other agencies, for that matter) will use this tactic in fields other than pesticides.  Is there a need for review of patent applications in other technology areas?

Theoretically, the Federal Drug Administration might be interested in patent applications relating to pharmaceuticals, biologics, and medical devices.  But the FDA approval process is rigorous and the reporting requirements strict.

Query whether other technologies relating to the environment would lend themselves to this type of scrutiny by the EPA, or whether green technology patent applications would interest other agencies (e.g., the Department of Energy).

In light of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, it would have been prescient of the EPA to search for patent filings relating to VW’s electronic control module, the software that activated its vehicles’ emissions controls during testing.  If they had found such documents a while ago, they might have provided an important early clue about the scandal to come.