Butamax Bellicose in Burgeoning Biobutanol Battle

February 17th, 2012 by Eric Lane Leave a reply »

A previous post included a discussion of the latest salvo in the growing green patent war between Colorado biofuels startup Gevo and Butamax, a BP-DuPont joint venture. 

The rivals both make biobutanol, an advanced biofuel which has some significant advantages over ethanol, including an energy content closer to that of gasoline and the capacity to create higher blend concentrations with gasoline.

In the most recent complaint (Gevo-Butamax_Complaint), filed in the federal court in Delaware on January 24, 2012, Gevo accuses Butamax of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,101,808 (’808 Patent) by performing certain isobutanol production processes.

The ’808 Patent, granted on January 24, 2012, is entitled “Recovery of higher alcohols from dilute aqueous solutions” and directed to methods of recovering C3-C6 alcohols from a fermentation broth.

The latest complaint has prompted Butamax to fight back in the court of public opinion with a press release (see the story by Jim Lane (no relation) of Biofuels Digest here).  The release, entitled “Butamax Refutes Unfounded Allegations of Infringement,” quotes the company’s CEO, Paul Beckwith on non-infringement and invalidity of the ’808 Patent:

Let us state emphatically, Butamax does not infringe the generic product separation technology claims in Gevo’s recent patent, which is already subject to a validity challenge by a Brazilian inventor . . . . While it does not surprise us that questions are being raised as to the validity of Gevo’s latest patent and whether Gevo provided sufficient disclosure in their patent application, Butamax does not use this technology.

The press release characterizes Butamax’s technology as having “fundamentally different product recovery systems” and providing “a unique synergy between the company’s biocatalyst technology and product recovery system.”

Butamax fired the first shot in this dispute with a patent infringement suit filed in January 2011, in which it accused Gevo of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,851,188, entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” (’188 Patent).  A second suit, filed in August 2011, alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,993,889 (’889 Patent), a later issued patent of the same title related to the ’188 Patent.

According to the press release, the’889 Patent covers Butamax’s technology and has ”significant priority over all of Gevo’s patent filings.”

In addition, the press release touches on a few procedural points:  it says that Butamax has moved to dismiss ”Gevo’s previous case” against it, will “pursue early resolution” of the latest suit, and with respect to its own infringement charges, indicates that Butamax is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against Gevo.

As mentioned in previous posts, this is the first instance I’ve seen of biofuels patent litigation involving one of the oil majors, which clearly have begun to use patent litigation to protect their new turf.

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