Archive for the ‘Biofuels & Biomaterials’ category

Velocys Biomass Reactors: Microchanneling Intense Reactions

August 15th, 2013

Velocys, part of the Oxford Catalysts Group, is an Ohio company that develops technology for the production of synthetic oil from waste gas, coal, and waste biomass. 

Velocys owns at least 84 U.S. patents and published patent applications, including a family of patents that issued from an application originally filed in 2003.  These patents include U.S. Patent Nos. 7,402,719, 7,744,829 and 8,106,249.

The patents are entitled “Catalytic oxidative dehydrogenation, and microchannel reactors for catalytic oxidative dehydrogenation” (Dehydrogenation Patents) and cover what appears to be the company’s first generation microchannel reactor technology.

Microchannel reactors contain thousands of millimeter scale channels that quickly dissipate heat from the chemical reactions so more active catalysts can be used.  Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reactors use effect heat dissipation by interleaving channels containing catalyst with water-filled coolant channels. 

According to the Velocys web site:

The use of microchannel processing makes it possible to greatly intensify chemical reactions enabling them to occur at rates 10 to 1000 times faster than in conventional systems.

The Dehydrogenation Patents are directed to apparatus and methods of oxidatively dehydrogenating a gaseous hydrocarbon in which the reaction chamber has walls (6, 6′), a process channel (2) contains a bulk flow path (4), and a heating chamber (10) is adjacent to the process channel (2).

The heating chamber is divided into several regions (7, 9, 13) into which various fluids flow to tailor the temperature profile in a process channel.  In one example, the Dehydrogenation Patents state:

[S]team or the return portion of [an oxidative dehydrogenation] stream could flow through region 7 to provide a preheat zone; an endothermic process stream can flow through region 9 to remove heat from the oxidative dehydrogenation reaction in a reaction chamber (a portion of the process channel in which catalyst 15 is present), and a cold fluid flows through region 13 to quench the reaction.

As shown in FIG. 3A of the Oxidative Dehydrogenation Patents, the channels may have apertures (38) forming passageways between channels (36 and 37) to allow flow of a reactant into the endothermic reaction chamber.

Velocys also has more recent patent applications relating to subsequent developments in its microchannel technology, including U.S. Application Publication Nos. 2012/0095268 and 2013/0127093, which includes the claimed step of ultrasonically packing particulates into the microchannels using an ultrasonic densification unit.

The Velocys FT reactor technology was recently selected for a biomass-to-liquids plant to be developed by Red Rock Biofuels and partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense.

BioGasol Carbofrac Units Foster Feedstock Intimacy and Inclusion

May 15th, 2013


BioGasol is a Danish company that has developed a biomass pre-treatment system comfortably situated upstream in cellulosic biofuels production.  The system, called Carbofrac, provides more efficient and lower cost biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic feedstocks such as wood and agricultural waste.

The company owns at least nine U.S. patents and published applications, including U.S. Application Publication No. 2012/0100045 (‘045 Application), which covers the pre-treatment system.

The ‘045 Application is entitled “Apparatus for rapid mixing of media and method” and directed to an apparatus (100) for processing at least two media.  The apparatus (100) has a reaction chamber (102), a casing (108), at least two inlets for a materials to be processed and another medium, a rotating means (111), a series of rotating elements (110), and a lid (104).

The reaction chamber casing (108) has a conical shape to facility flow of the materials toward the lid (104), and the inlet is adapted so the material to be processed moves in a direction parallel to the radius of the rotating means (111).

The second figure shows the reaction chamber (102) in more detail.  Rotating elements (205, 206) generate a vortex inducing mixture and transport of the feedstock material, thereby optimizing release of a medium such as steam or a chemical reagent and providing for a rapid interaction between the medium and the feedstock:

The rotating discs are designed in order to provide comminution, dispersion and fluffing of the pulp introduced and exposure of said material to a medium, i. e. gas or liquid, to produce a rapid interaction. The rotating discs are designed in order to optimize the medium release at the instant of comminution, dispersion and fluffing.

According to the ‘045 Application, the “comminution and the dispersion effect” of the rotating elements cause “an instantaneous inclusion of the injected medium in the pulp” which, in turn, leads to reduced reaction time:

This allows localized and immediate contact between the freshly dispersed and comminuted pulp and the chemical reagent causing a fast and efficient reaction between the two. Reaction time is therefore reduced since the chemical reagent is put in intimate contact with the pulp minimizing the diffusion time through the pulp.

BioGasol recently delivered its first Carbofrac unit to Sweetwater Energy, a company that produces concentrated sugars for bioenergy and biochemical applications.

Patented Bio-PDO for Heat Transfer: CSP Meets Green Chemistry

April 22nd, 2013

DuPont Tate & Lyle BioProducts (DPTL) is a joint venture between DuPont and Tate & Lyle which provides natural and renewably sourced industrial materials.  In collaboration with Climalife, DPTL has developed and launched a new line of heat transfer fluids (HTF) under the brand name Greenway. 

The Greenway fluids are marketed for use in solar thermal (AKA concentrating solar power) applications.  The key ingredient in the heat transfer fluids is DPTL’s Susterra brand propanediol, a bio-based glycol.

DPTL owns several patents and pending applications relating to its bio-derived propanediol (Bio-PDO), including U.S. Patent No. 7,988,883 (‘883 Patent), specifically directed to use of Bio-PDO in heat transfer compositions.

Entitled “Heat transfer compositions comprising renewably-based biodegradable 1,3-propanediol,” the ‘883 Patent is directed to heat transfer or antifreeze compositions comprising biologically-derived 1,3-propanediol having a bio-based carbon content of at least 1%. 

The independent claims of the ‘883 Patent include a recitation that the composition “has a lower anthropogenic CO2 emission profile” compared to 1,3 propanediol with no bio-based carbon.  The Bio-PDO can be generated by genetically-engineered E.coli bacteria or other microorganisms. 

The patent makes the argument that its bio-based process is carbon-neutral.  According to the ‘883 Patent, the compositions have less environmental impact because they take their carbon from plant feedstocks and release the carbon into the atmosphere to be used by plants again:

The biologically derived 1,3-propanediol (Bio-PDO) for use in the current invention, produced by the process described herein, contains carbon from the atmosphere incorporated by plants, which compose the feedstock for the production of Bio-PDO. In this way, the Bio-PDO used in the compositions of the invention contains only renewable carbon, and not fossil fuel based, or petroleum based carbon. Therefore the compositions of the invention have less impact on the environment as the propanediol used in the compositions does not deplete diminishing fossil fuels and, upon degradation releases carbon back to the atmosphere for use by plants once again. Thus, the present invention can be characterized as more natural and having less environmental impact than similar compositions comprising petroleum based glycols.

Like some of the patent litigation involving solar ovens and solar mounting systems, the Greenway HTF product containing patented propanediol is another example of green IP extending into downstream solar and penetrating the niche market opportunities offered by the clean tech industry.

Court Re-Construes GreenShift Ethanol Processing Patents and Defers SJ Motions

February 15th, 2013

Previous posts (e.g., here and here) discussed the series of patent infringement suits brought by GreenShift and its New York subsidiary, GS Cleantech (GS), against a host of ethanol producers across the midwestern United States.

The litigation currently consists of 11 actions consolidated in the Southern District of Indiana in which GreenShift has accused the defendants of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 7,601,858 (‘858 Patent), 8,008,516  (‘516 Patent) and 8,283,484 (‘484 Patent), entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems” and U.S. Patent No. 8,008,517 (‘517 Patent), entitled “Method of recovering oil from thin stillage.”  The latter three patents were recently added to the case.

The patents relate to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.  The patented methods include mechanically separating the whole stillage into distillers wet grains and thin stillage and then running the thin stillage into an evaporator to form a concentrated byproduct, or syrup.  The syrup is fed through a second centrifuge, which separates usable corn oil from the syrup.

Following a mixed claim construction ruling, a number of defendants filed motions for summary judgment of non-infringment of the ‘858, ‘516 and/or ‘517 Patents, and GS filed a motion for summary judgment of infringement of the ‘858 and ‘516 Patents.

In a recent decision the court revisited its interpretations of a few claim terms and, based on the new constructions, denied the SJ motions all around without prejudice.  The key term the court focused on was “substantially free of oil” / “substantially oil free.”

The defendants argued that all of the patent claims require the concentrate or syrup after the oil recovery step to be substantially free of oil.  The court disagreed and held that none of the claims of the ‘858 Patent have this requirement and only claim 7 of the ‘516 Patent and claim 8 of the ‘484 Patent  require that the post-oil recovery step syrup stream be substantially oil free.

Another issue in interpreting the “substantially oil free” term was whether it should be defined as a comparison between the oil concentration in the incoming thin stillage stream and the outgoing remaining-concentrate stream.  The defendants also contended that the term should mean the post-oil recovery thin stillage stream contains 5% or less of the oil in the incoming stream.

The court agreed with the comparison but declined to impose a quantitative requirement for the percentage of oil.  Accordingly, the term “substantially oil free” was interpreted according to the ordinary meaning of largely and mostly oil free but is measured by a comparison of the oil concentration in the incoming thin stillage and the oil concentration in the resulting syrup:

[T]he Court concludes that the “substantially oil free” limitation in claim 7 of the ‘516 Patent and claim 8 of the ‘484 Patent means the syrup exiting the centrifuge is substantially oil free compared to the incoming thin stillage, where substantially has its ordinary meaning of largely or mostly.

The court went on to  dismiss all of the pending summary judgment motions without prejudice and with leave to re-file.  In view of the new claim construction and the recent addition of three patents to the litigation, the court decided the parties would need more time to develop their arguments on infringement:

[T]he Court recognizes that the decisions in this Order will have an impact on the parties’ positions with respect to infringement.  In addition, as discussed in the introduction, since the date the parties filed their summary judgment motions the Court has allowed CleanTech to amend its complaints against each Defendant such that nearly all patents in the ‘858 patent family are asserted against each of them.  For both of these reasons, the currently-briefed summary judgment motions likely do not address all the arguments the parties wish to raise with respect to CleanTech’s allegations of infringement and, to resolve the infringement issues fairly, the Court will require the parties to address the allegedly infringing processes under the new claim construction.


Court Issues Split Decision in Cargill’s Renewable Fuel Credits Greenwash Case

January 21st, 2013

The Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”) Program is an EPA program promulgated under the Clean Air Act which mandates that certain “obligated parties” must sell gasoline containing a certain percentage of renewable fuel.  To ensure that sufficient volumes of renewable fuel are produced in and imported into the U.S., companies in the gasoline business are required to meet annual Renewable Volume Obligations. 

One way these parties meet their obligations is by acquiring enough Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, to demonstrate compliance.  A RIN is a numeric code generated by a renewable fuel producer or importer that represents a gallon of renewable fuel.

Cargill, a large conglomerate known primarily in the food and agricultural industries, produces and sells biofuels and participates in energy markets.  In September of 2012, Cargill sued International Exchange Services (IES), a commodities trader, for allegedly transferring invalid RINs and failing to remedy the problem.  

According to the Cargill complaint, the disputed RINs were purportedly originally issued by a producer called Double Diamond Biofuels (Double Diamond), but the RINs were not valid and not actually generated by Double Diamond. 

In a recent decision, the court dismissed two Cargill causes of action, including the claim under the Clean Air Act.  However, Cargill may go forward with its breach of contract claim.

Because it does 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 if Cargill’s allegations are true, the fraudulent activity does represent a grave instance of greenwashing. 

The generation of invalid RINs undermines the policy of the RFS Program – to ensure a certain level of renewable fuel in U.S. gasoline – by damaging the market for valid RINs and ultimately reducing the actual volume of biofuels in circulation. 

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

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

In addition to the Cargill civil case, the StarTribune piece says the U.S. government has prosecuted two companies that were allegedly generating fraudulent RINs, and the owner of one was convicted.

Federal Circuit Denies Butamax’s Bid to Revive Preliminary Injunction

December 4th, 2012

Previous posts (e.g., here, here and here) discussed the continually expanding green patent war between advanced biofuels startup Gevo and a BP-DuPont joint venture called Butamax Advanced Biofuels (Butamax).

There are at least 17 patents at issue in the various actions brought by both parties.  The patents relate to methods of production of biobutanol and enzymes used in the production processes.

In the first appellate court ruling of the litigation, Butamax lost its bid to obtain a preliminary injunction against Gevo.

Butamax had requested that a Delaware district court enjoin Gevo from selling biobutanol which allegedly infringed U.S. Patent No. 7,993,889, entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” (‘889 Patent).  The ‘889 Patent is directed to a more cost efficient method of producing isobutanol directly from pyruvate via a particular production pathway using recombinant microbial host cells.

The Delaware district court denied Butamax’s motion because Gevo’s strong non-infringement position made it unlikely that Butamax would prevail on infringement, and there was doubt as to the validity of the ‘889 Patent as some claims had been preliminarily rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in reexamination proceedings.

Butamax appealed, and the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the preliminary injunction.  On appeal Butamax had to show the district court’s decision was an abuse of discretion and that the validity question raised by Gevo “lacks substantial merit.” 

The Federal Circuit found Butamax failed on both counts, though the decision focused primarily on the validity issue:

Based on the record and this standard of review, this court affirms the denial of the preliminary injunction.  Gevo, Inc. raised a substantial question of validity concerning the asserted patent, a question which Butamax has failed to show “lacks substantial merit.”

However, the appeals court did call into question a claim construction ruling of the district court which was favorable to Gevo.  More particularly, the district court had construed an enzyme recited in a ‘889 Patent claim relatively narrowly as being defined with respect to only one of two possible cofactors, i.e., as only NADPH dependent.

The Federal Circuit indicated it disagreed with this claim construction and advised the district court to reconsider at the claim construction hearing:

this court’s affirmance should not be read to endorse the trial court’s very questionable construction of the claim term “acetohydroxy acid isomeroreductase” – that is “as an enzyme that is solely NADPH dependent.”  The trial court should reconsider its construction when it holds a Markman hearing.

So the case will move forward, and Gevo may continue to sell its bio-based isobutanol while the litigation is pending.



Enzyme Distributor Admits Infringement As Novozymes Wins Injunction

October 3rd, 2012


In a previous post, I discussed Novozymes’ patent infringement complaint against CTE Global in which the Danish biopharmaceutical company accused the Illinois enzyme distributor of infringing U.S. Patent Nos. 6,255,084 (‘084 Patent) and 7,060,468 (‘468 Patent).

The ‘084 and ‘468 Patents are entitled “Thermostable glucoamylase” and are directed to an isolated glucoamylase enzyme which has higher thermal stability than prior glucoamylases.  The patents also claim starch conversion processes using the enzyme.  Glucoamylases are used to convert hydrolyzed corn starch to glucose, particularly in production of ethanol.

The parties recently settled the case and the court entered a Consent Judgment and Permanent Injunction ending the lawsuit.

Per the Settlement Agreement and as reflected in the court’s order, CTE acknowledged distributing and selling the accused products and infringing the patents-in-suit:

4.     CTE acknowledges that it has distributed and sold in the United States glucoamylase products designated GLUCOAMYL L 706+ and GLUCOAMYL LG20 (hereinafter referred to as the “Glucoamylase Products”), and that at least some of the Glucoamylase Products distributed and sold in the United States by CTE contained a glucoamylase enzyme having the amino acid sequence attached to this Consent Judgment as Exhibit A (hereinafter referred to as the “Accused Products”).

*     *     *

7.     CTE acknowledges that it has infringed the Patents-In-Suit by importing the Accused Products into the United States and by using, offering to sell and selling the Accused Products within the United States.

The court order imposes a permanent injunction prohibiting CTE from making, using, selling, offering to sell and importing into the U.S. the Accused Products.

Novozymes has had previous success in major green patent litigation, winning an $18 million infringement verdict against rival Danisco.

DuPont: Green Chemistry and Sustainability Efforts in Action

August 21st, 2012

According to the EPA, “green chemistry” is defined as:
“…The design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry applies across the life cycle of a chemical product, including its design, manufacture, and use.”

DuPont owns countless patent and patent applications that would fall under the “green chemistry” definition, but unbeknownst to some, green chemistry has been an integral part of DuPont’s business strategy since the company began.

DuPont began in 1802 on the Brandywine River in Delaware. What started out as a gunpowder company with only 40 employees grew to be one of the nation’s largest companies. As an initial producer of explosives, the company was concerned with safe business practices and product stewardship starting on day one.

“It’s built into the company’s DNA,” Dr. Henry Bryndza, Director of Bio-Chemical Sciences and Engineering at DuPont noted. DuPont expanded rapidly within its first century of commercialization and continued its commitment to employee and consumer health and safety; the company established the first industrial toxicology lab in North America, dedicated to product stewardship.

In the early 1990’s, convinced that environmental stewardship went hand-in-hand with good business practices, DuPont created a set of environmental goals to be reached by 2010. By 2006, under the guidance of CEO Chad Holliday, the company had met or exceeded all of the goals, and set new goals for 2015.

Holliday realized that it was imperative to find a more sustainable way for the company and its customers to grow. He helped shape the role of research and development to one that focused on alternatives that were sustainable. DuPont abides by eleven criteria for every research project it takes on, ranging from climate change, energy use, and water consumption, to use of depleting resources.

“Green chemistry and its principles are involved in everything we do, whether it’s the next generation of drought resistant seeds, non-global warming refrigerants, or renewable polymers,” explained Bryndza.

So let’s take a closer look at a green product that’s currently in the works at DuPont: Solamet® metallization pastes. DuPont Solamet® photovoltaic metallization pastes are used in manufacturing solar cells and are designed to raise their efficiency.

The pastes are protected by a variety of patents, including composition patents that cover silver compositions that are used on the front side of solar cells and aluminium compositions used on the back side surface, for example US Patent No. 8,158,504, entitled Conductive Compositions and Processes for use in the Manufacture of Semiconductor Devices–Organic Medium Components.

“DuPont is a leading innovator of photovoltaic (PV) metallizations, sold under the Solamet(r) brand, which have been instrumental in nearly doubling the efficiency of solar cells over the past dozen years,” said Peter Brenner, global photovoltaics marketing manager, DuPont Microcircuit Materials.

“DuPont has been granted nearly 200 patents related to photovoltaic applications globally since the start of 2008, and we have over thirteen hundred patent applications pending in this area globally. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year focused on advancing the efficiency, lifetime and cost competitiveness of solar energy to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels, and as we continue to develop new technology, we need to ensure it is protected.”

DuPont Microcircuit Materials recently filed two lawsuits against PV paste supplier Heraeus and one against its customer SolarWorld, for infringing on DuPont patents for Solamet® photovoltaic metallization pastes.

“We do not ignore theft and infringement and we will aggressively pursue other points in the supply chain where IP theft and infringement exists, including the production and sale of downstream products which incorporate ‘infringing’ materials by cell and module makers, as well as PV system developers, installers and owners,” stated Brenner.

Patent infringement in the clean tech industry is a hot issue, especially since research and development occur so rapidly. However, DuPont is sure to produce many interesting products in the upcoming decades, all while staying true to sustainable business practices.

* Rosemary Ostfeld is a contributor to Green Patent Blog.  Rosemary recently completed both her undergraduate and graduate education at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  She will be studying Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge this fall.

Clean Tech in Court: Green Patent Complaint Update

August 10th, 2012

A number of green patent complaints have been filed in the last several weeks in the areas of biofuels, LEDs, gasoline recycling, and smart grid.



Butamax Advanced Biofuels v. Gevo, Inc.; Gevo, Inc. v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels

In the space of just one week, this mega-litigation grew 43% (by number of lawsuits filed) and 28.5% (by number of patents asserted), with Gevo filing another infringement complaint on July 30th, this time in the Eastern District of Texas, and Butamax adding a declaratory judgment (DJ) suit and a new infringement complaint in Delaware on July 31st and August 6th, respectively.

Gevo’s Complaint asserts U.S. Patent No. 8,232,089, entitled “Cytosolic isobutanol pathway localization for the production of isobutanol” and directed to a recombinant yeast microorganism for producing isobutanol in which the isobutanol producing metabolic pathway includes at least one isobutanol pathway enzyme – dihydroxy acid dehydratase – active in the cytosol of the microorganism (‘089 Patent). 

Butamax filed a DJ Complaint the following day asserting it has not infringed the ‘089 Patent and the patent is invalid. 

Butamax’s new infringement complaint alleges that Gevo infringes U.S. Patent No. 8,222,017, entitled “Ketol-acid reductoisomerase using NADH” (‘017 Patent).  The ‘017 Patent is directed to recombinant mutant ketol-acid reductoisomerase (KARI) enzymes for use in the biological synthesis of isobutanol.

With these latest salvos, I now count ten suits filed and nine asserted patents in this biobutanol battle.



Relume Corporation Trust v. Leotek Electronics USA Corp.

Relume Corporation Trust v. GE Lighting Solutions LLC

Relume filed two patent infringement complaints on July 12, 2012, one against Leotek in the Eastern District of Michigan and the other against GE Lighting Solutions in Delaware.  Both complaints assert Reissue 42,161, entitled “Power supply for light emitting diode array” (‘161 Reissue), which is a reissue of U.S. Patent No. 5,661,645.

The ‘161 Reissue is directed to a power supply apparatus and system for providing power to LEDs, particularly LED array traffic signals.  The accused products are GE’s GTxLED signal modules and Leotek’s IL3 Series LED traffic signal modules.


Schubert v. Cree, Inc.

Schubert v. Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.

Schubert v. Osram AG

In these three suits, each filed July 18, 2012 in Delaware federal court, Professor E. Fred Schubert of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) accuses Cree, Philips, and Osram of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,294,475 (‘475 Patent).

The ‘475 Patent is entitled “Crystallographic wet chemical etching of III-nitride material” and directed to method of processing a III-Nitride epitaxial layer system on a substrate, for example by etching to a selected depth or cleaving, and crystallographical etching the epitaxial layer system in order to obtain crystallographic plane surfaces.  These processes can be used to manufacture GaN-based LEDs.

According to the complaints (Schubert-Cree Complaint, Schubert-Osram Complaint, Schubert-Philips Complaint), Professor Schubert is the Founding Director of the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center at RPI and has made many significant contributions to the field of compound semiconductors.  

These cases have shades of the Gertrude Neumark Rothschild LED litigation saga (see,e.g., a previous post here), another professor and LED innovator who sued many LED makers and electronics companies for patent infringement. 


Bortex Industry Company Ltd. v. Fiber Optic Designs, Inc.

In this declaratory judgment complaint, filed July 25, 2012 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bortex requests a DJ that Fiber Optic Designs’ U.S. Patent Nos. 7,220,022 (‘022 Patent) and 7,934,852 (‘852 Patent) are invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed.

The ‘022 and ‘852 Patents are related patents entitled “Jacketed LED assemblies and light strings containing same” and directed to LED strings having a transmissive cover and an integrally molded thermoplastic jacket at the opening of the cover to provide a seal at the opening against moisture and airborne contaminants.


Gasoline Recycling

Yellow Dog Technologies, LLC v. Fuel Recyclers, LLC

Yellow Dog filed this complaint on August 1, 2012 in federal court in Arizona accusing Fuel Recyclers of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,165,781 (‘781 Patent). 

The ‘781 Patent is entitled “Fuel recovery” and directed to fuel pump controllers and software for operation of a fuel pump of a combustion engine so it pumps a predefined amount of fuel in the fuel line directly to a drain conduit.


Smart Grid

Electric Power Group, LLC v. Alstom, S.A.

Filed July 25, 2012 in the Central District of California, this complaint by Electric Power Group (EPG), a Pasadena, California, developer and distributor of electric grid monitoring solutions, accuses the French conglomerate Alstom and its U.S. division Alstom Grid of infringing U.S. Patent No. 8,060,259 (‘259 Patent).

The ‘259 Patent is entitled “Wide-area, real-time monitoring and visualization system” and directed to a wide-area real-time performance monitoring system for monitoring and assessing dynamic stability of an electric power grid.

Cofactor Key Factor as Gevo Dodges Injunction

June 26th, 2012

Biobutanol maker Gevo dodged a bullet with a big win last week in its expanding patent war with Butamax Advanced Biofuels (Butamax) (see previous posts herehere, here, here, here, and the post on Butamax’s opening shot).

While Butamax did have exactly one week of satisfaction after the District Court for the District of Delaware issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting any new sales of Gevo’s bio-based isobutanol, the bigger victory went to Gevo when the court denied Butamax’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

Butamax had requested the court enjoin Gevo from infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,993,889, entitled “Fermentive production of four carbon alcohols” (‘889 Patent).  The ‘889 Patent is directed to a more cost efficient method of producing isobutanol directly from pyruvate via a particular production pathway using recombinant microbial host cells.

To determine whether Butamax was likely to succeed on the merits (and thus deserving of preliminary injunctive relief) the court zeroed in on the heart of the infringement question, which turns on the interpretation of a key claim term.

More particularly, the parties disputed the meaning of the term “acetohydroxy acid isomeroreductase enzyme,” also known as a “KARI.”  KARI is the enzyme used in one of the steps of claim 1 of the ‘889 Patent.

A KARI needs a cofactor that donates electrons to enable it to catalyze a reaction, and the issue was whether a KARI is defined with respect to NADPH or NADH cofactors.

Critical to resolution of this issue, the ‘889 Patent expressly defines acetohydroxy acid isomereductase as:

an enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of acetolactate to 2,3-dihydroxyisovalerate using NADPH (reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate) as an electron donor

The court noted that the ‘889 Patent specifically states that other enzymes use “NADH and/or NADPH as an electron donor.” 

Guided by the statements in Butamax’s ‘889 Patent, the court construed acetohydroxy acid isomeroreductase as being defined with respect to NADPH only:

Accordingly, the court interprets the term acetohydroxy acid isomeroreductase in the manner in which plaintiff defined it, namely, as an enzyme that is solely NADPH-dependent (as opposed to NADH-dependent or NADH and NADPH-dependent).

Because Gevo uses an NADH-dependent enzyme, the court found it unlikely that Butamax would prevail on infringement of the ‘889 Patent:

[B]y defining the KARI as exclusively NADPH-dependent, plaintiff has placed defendant’s use of an NADH-dependent, or primarily NADH-dependent enzyme, outside the scope of claim 1.

As to validity of the ‘889 Patent, the court observed that claims 1 and 14 have been rejected as anticipated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office upon reexamination.

The patent examiner based his rejection on the inherent capability of enzymes in yeast cells to carry out the anabolic pathway claimed in the ‘889 Patent:

[Y]east converting pyruvate to isobutanol inherently possesses the enzymes capable of carrying out isobutanol synthetic pathway reactions found in claim 1.

Due to the questionable validity of the ‘889 Patent and Gevo’s strong non-infringement position, the court denied Butamax’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

A couple of days after the preliminary injunction decision, the court issued an opinion on Butamax’s motion on the pleadings in which it denied Butamax’s motion for a judgment that it does not infringe Gevo’s U.S. Patent Nos. 8,017,375 and 8,017,376.

The court found the infringement claims “particularly ill suited for disposition on a motion of judgment” because of the complexity of the technology but did indicate it might be willing to entertain focused discovery to expedite resolution of the claim.

So Butamax has stumbled out of the gate, but will no doubt continue the race.